FBI Little Rock
Public Affairs Officer Jessica Franklin
February 1, 2023

Virtual Kidnapping Schemes Target Spanish-Speaking Arkansans

Press release available in both English and Spanish.

FBI Little Rock is warning of a virtual kidnapping scam targeting Spanish-speaking individuals in Arkansas. 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 kidnapped anyone. Instead, through deceptions and threats, they coerce victims to quickly pay the ransom before the scheme is discovered. On average, families send thousands of dollars to criminals 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.”

Over the past several months, FBI offices across the United States have seen numerous calls originating out of Central America and Mexico targeting specific area codes in different states. The FBI’s investigation into these calls has 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. The criminals then request victims to send money as soon as possible. If you get this type of call— whether you think it’s an extortion scheme or a legitimate international kidnapping— contact the FBI immediately.

To avoid becoming a victim of this scheme, be aware of these warning signs:

  • Calls are usually made from an international phone number or display an out-of-state area code.
  • Scammers may call multiple times in an effort to speak with their targeted victims.
  • Scammers will go to great lengths to keep you on the phone.
  • Virtual kidnappers play recorded screams in the background to make the call sound more realistic.
  • Criminals will try to prevent you from calling or locating the “kidnapped” victim.
  • Ransom money is only accepted via wire transfer service.

To counter this scam, consider the following advice:

  • Stay calm and avoid sharing information about you or your family during the call.
  • Request to speak to the victim directly; ask for “proof of life.”
  • Listen carefully to the voice of the kidnapped victim and ask questions only the victim would know.
  • Request the kidnapped victim call back from their personal cell phone.
  • Attempt to contact the victim via their legitimate social media accounts.
  • Don’t agree to pay a ransom and never give out any financial information.

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. FBI investigators are only working to stop these scams. Our main priority is to help victims of federal crimes and bring justice to the criminals perpetrating these schemes.

The FBI continues to work with state, federal, and international law enforcement partners to locate and arrest the criminals responsible for these schemes. If you encounter or fall victim to this scheme, please report it to the FBI at www.ic3.gov or by calling 1-800-CALL-FBI.