Police in Spain warn of virtual kidnapping scam

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National Police Credit: Shutterstock

SPAIN’S National Police are warning people to watch out for “virtual kidnappings.” 

Criminals are trying to convince people that they have taken a loved one hostage and demanding thousands of euros for their release when in reality the ‘victims’ are safe and sound. 

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In 2019 police learned of 130 cases in Spain, five of which led to cash being handed over. In two of the cases the money was later recovered. 

The latest attempt happened in Madrid where police managed to stop a woman from paying the alleged “ransom” after she received a call saying that her daughter was being held hostage 

Officers intercepted the victim at a bank branch when, while still talking to the ‘kidnappers’ on her mobile phone, she was preparing to withdraw €10,000 to secure the release of her daughter 


The virtual kidnappers cut off the call as police arrived. Officers immediately took steps to ensure that the daughter was safe and sound at her workplace. 

The concerned mother, aged 69, had received a phone call from a man with a foreign accent threatening to cut off a finger from the alleged hostage unless she paid up.  


He ordered her to go to her bank immediately if she didn’t want her daughter harmed. 

While the virtual kidnapper kept the victim on the phone, she walked to the bank, where a National Police patrol also arrived at the same time. The victim’s husband had called 091 just a few minutes earlier to report what was happening, and the rapid response of the officers meant that no bank withdrawal took place. At the same time, other officers went to the alleged kidnapped woman’s place of work, where they checked that she was in perfect health. 

Police say that among the main characteristics of virtual kidnappings are surprise and the state of anguish in which the victim is plunged. They are usually unexpected calls from hidden numbers or with a foreign prefix. What the criminals seek is to provoke maximum anguish and emotional blockage, so they are very aggressive and direct, and may even put third parties on the phone who imitate the screams and cries of the supposed victims. 

Another strategy of virtual kidnappers is to try to prolong the call as long as possible to avoid any reaction from the victim. They want to prevent the victim from calling the police and try to get them to send the money without hanging up the phone, mainly through money transfer companies. 

Police units are prepared to react as soon as a virtual kidnapping attempt is reported.  

Police advise that some basic prevention guidelines can prevent citizens from becoming victims of this type of extortion: 

  

  • Be wary if you are told that a family member has been kidnapped, even if another person is put on or voices are heard in the background  
  • Remain calm in the face of pressure from the fake kidnapper, who will use verbal violence of some kind 
  • Check the information the fake kidnappers are giving you 
  • Do not make any payment, you will be required to make a quick payment so as not to give time to locate the relative 
  • Don’t give out personal data and don’t post it on social networks 
  • Notify the National Police (091) and try to call the alleged victim on another line. If possible record the malicious call 




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