Turn To Tara explores how to stay safe from ‘cyber kidnapping’ scams

The scammers try to extort family members into thinking their loved ones are in dire trouble - and demand money to ensure their safety.

Tara Rosenblum and Lee Danuff

May 6, 2024, 9:45 AM

Updated 20 days ago

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The Turn To Tara team is investigating the growing trend of ‘cyber kidnapping’ and offering tips to stay safe.
The scammers try to extort family members into thinking their loved ones are in dire trouble - and demand money to ensure their safety.
A Chinese exchange student out west was discovered freezing and alone in a tiny tent in the Utah mountains after falling prey to the scam.
“He was under duress, and he was threatened. But there was nobody actually holding him captive physically,” says Titania Jordan, chief parenting officer at online safety company Bark Technologies.
Police say virtual kidnappers targeted the teenager online and threatened to harm his family overseas unless he sent pictures of himself isolated in the mountains.
The cybercriminals then extorted his parents for tens of thousands of dollars, pretending he was being held captive.
“It's just one more example of how the wrong people given access to your children can harm them,” says Jordan. “More and more children are falling prey to problematic content. And it's something we absolutely need to highlight, and help people just protect themselves,”
Jordan says it’s important to learn the popular scams cybercriminals try to dupe unsuspecting victims.
“Some of the most common tricks is grabbing the likeness of somebody and creating a new profile,” she says.
Jordan offers the following tips:
· Set up location tracking on all your phones and mobile devices.
· Set up parental controls that approve contacts for your children’s accounts.
· Establish a family safe word.
“Let's say your safe word is ‘banana.’ If you get a call saying I've been kidnapped, and if they don't say that word, then you know it's a scam,” she says.


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