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Fake kidnapping scam cases rising locally

By Russell Kinsaul

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    ST. LOUIS, Missouri (KMOV) — Area police departments are seeing an increase of a new type of scam that involves a caller who claims to have kidnapped a relative of the victim and demands thousands of dollars in ransom.

The police departments in St. Charles, Manchester and Arnold have recently investigated cases involving fake kidnapping scams. In one of the Manchester cases, because the suspect met the victim to receive the ransom payment, he was identified and later tracked to Florida. The suspect is currently being extradited to face charges.

In the St. Charles case, the scammer knew the name of the victim he’d called and the name of her daughter he claimed to have kidnapped, according to Lt. Tom Wilkison with the St. Charles Police Department.

“Had called and said I kidnapped your daughter. She hit my car, caused some damage. And wanted several thousand dollars,” said Wilkison.

Wilkison said the criminals are preying on their victims’ emotions by claiming to have kidnapped a close relative. And he said there’s usually a sense of urgency to prevent the victim from taking the time to verify the claim or to check on their loved one.

According to the Arnold Police Department, a 47-year-old St. Louis man was scammed out of $3,900 after getting a call and hearing the voice of someone who claimed to be his wife saying she’d been kidnapped. The victim was instructed to wire the money to the scammer.

Another victim, a 63-year-old man from Illinois, was instructed to drive to Arnold and wire nearly $2,000 to a scammer. In the phone call he received, a voice that sounded like his daughter claimed that she’d been kidnapped.

Police say in some cases, scammers are spoofing phone numbers to make it appear calls are coming from the person that has supposedly been kidnapped. And scammers are using artificial intelligence to mimic the alleged kidnap victim’s voice.

“What they’ve been doing is cloning people’s voices. So, if you’re using AI software to clone the voice, you will think you are talking to your particular family member on the phone,” said Wilkison.

Police warn that it’s a red flag if a caller claims you have to hurry to take action to send money and won’t give you time to verify the situation. If you get a call from someone claiming to be a kidnapper, police advise not to panic but to contact the police right away.

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