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Virtual kidnapping scams aren’t just terrifying; they can be costly. A virtual kidnapping scam occurs when a scammer calls your number and tells you he has kidnapped your loved one. The scammer threatens injury or worse unless the victim pays a ransom. Most consumers are inclined to hang-up and pass the call off as a despicable hoax, but many consumers fall for the ruse, paying hundreds or thousands of dollars in order to help their loved one.

What makes this scam effective?


What should consumers do if contacted by a scammer claiming to have kidnapped a family member? The FBI offers the following tips:

  • Notify the police. You can use a different phone line, text or email a friend and ask them to call 911 for you, or flag down a neighbor or passing motorist. Don’t be embarrassed—the police will want to know what happened even if it is a scam.
  • Check where the call is coming from. The FBI warns that the calls generally come from an outside area code, not the kidnapped victim’s phone.
  • Attempt to get in contact with your loved one. Ask them to call you using their own cellphone and make sure you speak with them directly.
  • Remain calm. The scammers are counting on your fear for your family member’s safety to get you to pay-up without thinking. Experts suggest demanding to speak with your family member or asking a question that only they would know the answer to. Refrain from sharing any information about your loved one–the scammers could use it to make their scam more believable.

If you have additional questions, contact the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation by calling our Consumer Hotline at (617) 973-8787, or toll-free in MA at (888) 283-3757, Monday through Friday from 9 am-4:30 pm. Follow the Office on Facebook and Twitter, @Mass_Consumer. The Baker-Polito Administration’s  Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation along with its five agencies work together to achieve two goals: to protect and empower consumers through advocacy and education, and to ensure a fair playing field for all Massachusetts businesses. The Office also oversees the state’s Lemon Laws, data breach reporting, Home Improvement Contractor Program and the state’s Do Not Call Registry.

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