LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) – The FBI field office in Little Rock has issued a warning about a virtual kidnapping scheme targeting Spanish-speaking citizens in Arkansas.

According to a media release, the scheme tricks victims over the phone into paying a ransom to “free” a loved one they believe has been kidnapped, when in fact, the scammers have not actually kidnapped anyone. They coerce victims to quickly pay a ransom by using deception and threats before the scheme is discovered.

The FBI release stated that, on average, families send the scammers thousands of dollars before contacting law enforcement.

“Virtual kidnappings depend on speed, fear, and the expectation that victims won’t contact law enforcement,” said FBI Little Rock Special Agent in Charge James A. Dawson. “Scammers know they only have a limited time to receive a ransom before their plot unravels. We want potential victims to contact the FBI immediately so we can identify and disrupt these criminal enterprises.”

FBI offices across the United States have seen numerous calls over the past several months originating out of Central America and Mexico targeting specific area codes in different states. The FBI’s investigation into those calls determined that criminals are scanning social media accounts for people traveling out of the country.

These scammers then call the traveler’s loved ones, stating that the traveler is in danger or has been kidnapped. If you get this type of call, whether you think it’s an extortion scheme or a legitimate international kidnapping, contact the FBI immediately.

The FBI advises that these scam calls usually come from an international phone number or an out-of-state area code. Scammers may call multiple times and will “go to great lengths” to keep people on the phone, according to the release. They may even play recorded screams in the background in an attempt to make the circumstances seem more realistic.

The FBI added that the criminals will try to prevent anyone from calling or locating the “kidnapped” victim, and will usually only accept payment via a wire transfer.

Tips for avoiding this type of scam include the following: first, stay calm and avoid sharing information about you or your family during the call. Then ask to speak to the victim directly and make a request for “proof of life.”

Listen carefully to the voice of the kidnapped victim and ask questions only the victim would know, then request that the kidnapped victim call back from their personal cell phone. The FBI also suggests attempting to contact the victim via their legitimate social media accounts.

Lastly, don’t agree to pay a ransom and never give out any financial information.

The FBI Little Rock believes numerous virtual kidnappings remain unreported as many Spanish-speaking Arkansans are hesitant to contact law enforcement due to concerns about their immigration status. If you encounter or fall victim to this scheme, please report it to the
FBI at or by calling 1-800-CALL-FBI.