Virtual kidnapping scams on the rise in Illinois, FBI warns

The FBI issued a warning about virtual kidnapping scams that try to trick families into paying ransoms to scammers who claim to have taken their loved ones hostage.

The scam, which has been used for at least two decades, involves virtual kidnappers searching the internet for information about targets that are traveling abroad and contacting the targets' loved ones claiming to have taken them hostage.

The scammers demand a ransom to ensure the release of the target, who they have not taken hostage in reality.


Virtual kidnappers often pose as drug cartel members or corrupt law enforcement. Some even use fake screams in the background to try to convince families of the kidnapping's authenticity

The scammers often request payment via wire transfer and push victims to send the money quickly.

The FBI suggests the following tips for preventing virtual kidnapping scams:

  • Never post news of upcoming travel dates and locations online.
  • Discuss virtual kidnapping with family members prior to any travel.
  • Have a "password" that family members can ask for in an emergency to confirm that a loved one is really in trouble.
  • Be wary of providing financial information to strangers over the phone.