The ‘virtual kidnapping’ scam that has duped more than 1,500 victims in Spain

A ‘virtual kidnapping’ scam that’s claimed at least 1,500 victims in Spain has been traced to a group of jailed criminals in South America.

The scam consisted of calling people and saying that their loved ones had been kidnapped, after this they very angrily demanded thousands in ransom money to guarantee the release of the “hostages”.

In one case, a 69-year-old woman who lives in Madrid received a phone call from a man with a foreign-sounding accent who told her that her daughter had been kidnapped.

Either you pay €10,000 or we’ll send you a video of us cutting off one of your daughter’s fingers,” she was told.

This is the latest known case of a type of an extortion scheme in which criminals call a person – often randomly selected – and try to convince him or her that they have kidnapped a relative. They start out by demanding €10,000, then typically bring this amount down significantly, sometimes to €500.

In the last five years, Spain has seen 1,474 reported cases of this type of fraud, according to figures released by the Interior Ministry. Half of them took place in 2016, with as many as four a day during the month of July.

The number of reported cases has dropped significantly since then, with 104 recorded in 2018. Last year there was a slight pick-up with 136 reported cases, according to a government reply to a question by a lawmaker from the Basque party EH Bildu. In this period of time, law enforcement agencies have arrested or investigated 17 individuals.

But Chief Inspector Juan Alcolea, of the National Police’s kidnappings and extortion department, notes that this is a type of crime where many cases go unreported. “Many people who don’t pay also don’t file a police report,” he notes.

Alcolea points to another difficulty when it comes to making arrests. “In the vast majority of cases, the perpetrators are not in Spain but in South America, more specifically in Chile.”

It is in everyone’s interest to report incidents like this and may help in the future to break up a ring of scammers like this.

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Written by

Tony Winterburn

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