Police warn Utahns about ‘virtual kidnapping’ after criminals target family visiting Park City

Posted at 5:45 PM, Aug 20, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-20 23:16:08-04

PARK CITY, Utah - A new and terrifying crime trend has hit Utah, and it's called "virtual kidnapping."

Capt. Phil Kirk of the Park City Police Department said virtual kidnapping is when a suspect indicates they are holding your child for ransom, when they don't actually have your child at all.

One such incident happened in Park City last Friday. Kirk said a family was visiting friends in Park City from their home in Mexico.

"They were traumatized by getting this phone call from individuals that were threatening to harm their 15-year-old son, who was not at home," Kirk said.

He said they all thought it was real.

"[They believed] their son could have been killed at any moment if they didn't comply, and that's what really frightened them, and they were willing to [offer] any amount of money to do what they needed to do," Kirk said.

Kirk said the suspects learn details about your family and lie to you, with the goal of scaring you into believing they have your child.

"The family was in a panic," Kirk said.

He said the suspect threatened the parents, telling them not to contact their child or they would kill the teen. Kirk said these criminals force you to leave your home and go to a business where you can wire them ransom money.

"The FBI has told us, they've worked along with us on this case, that a lot of the information they gather is intelligence gathering through social media sites such as Facebook," Kirk said.

Posting where you are going, who you are with and what you are doing are the simple details that make your family open to "a crime of opportunity." Kirk said these crimes present unique challenges.

"Once you figure out it's a cyber crime, it's much more difficult to track these perpetrators down because they are often times out of the country," he said.

Captain Kirk said these criminals often target immigrants.

"They don't know how the American criminal justice system works," he said.

However, in this case, the victims knew to call 911. They were able to find their son without paying out any money to the criminals. He was located safely nearby and was oblivious to the scam.

"The most important thing is no one was injured," Kirk said. "I mean they were traumatized, and emotionally they were very injured, but not physically, fortunately."

The FBI provided several signs that could indicate a kidnapping is virtual rather than legitimate:

· Multiple successive phone calls from the perpetrators
· Incoming calls made from an outside area code
· Callers go to great length to keep victims on the phone
· Callers try to prevent family members from contacting the "Kidnapped"
· Demands for ransom money to be paid via wire transfer