Families of Missing Persons Targeted in Ransom Phone Scams

The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) issued a warning about a phone scam that is targeting the family members of missing persons. Being understandably desperate for answers about their loved ones, these family members are easy targets for con artists.

These scam artists are using information they find posted on social media sites to make the families believe the missing person has been abducted or is in imminent danger. Often, the scammers threaten to do harm or even return the person for a price but actually have nothing to do with the person’s disappearance.

“After identifying a missing person on social media, scammers research details of the disappearance, the missing person, and the missing person’s family. The scammers often obtain telephone numbers for the family members on social media and use third-party calling or messaging applications to make ransom demands to disguise their true telephone number,” the Bureau explained.

The ransom demands made are generally somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000.

Anyone who believes they’ve been a victim of these types of calls or messages should save all documentation so law enforcement can review it.

Real Cases of this phone scam:

  • In August 2020, a mother reported her 13-year-old girl as missing. The family used social media to ask for assistance and posted a personal telephone number, which individuals claiming to have kidnapped the daughter used to contact the mother, demanding ransom. The girl had not been abducted and eventually returned home on her own.
  • In May 2018, a family reported an 18-year-old woman as missing. Local media reported the disappearance and family members posted a request for information on her disappearance to social media, along with a personal telephone number. Individuals claiming to have abducted the woman contacted the family telephonically at the provided personal number. One of the scammers claimed to be the victim and spoke to family members, saying they were drugged, threatened with physical assault, and taken to another state. Subsequent investigation revealed the missing woman was never abducted and was eventually found unharmed.

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