1) In your 2009 book you described a type of crime that arose in Argentina after the 2001 collapse–virtual kidnapping. In the past, this crime was unknown in the USA but the news here is now reporting that hundreds of such crimes have occurred recently in New York.
[ Reuters) – In a new wrinkle to an old crime, hundreds of New Yorkers have been tricked into paying ransoms by wire transfer to callers who falsely claim to have kidnapped their family members, according to the FBI.
In these “virtual kidnappings,” scammers make random calls to find their victims, saying a loved one has been snatched and demanding the immediate transfer of small sums of money to have them released, the FBI said.
Some calls feature screaming in the background to convince a victim of the authenticity of an abduction, the FBI said.
“There have been hundreds of the hoax kidnappings just in New York over the last 18 months,” FBI spokesman Peter Donald said on Wednesday. “This is hundreds of people who have actually wired money to them.” ]
This is very concerning and it’s a serious indicator as of where things are heading.
Some folks think that virtual kidnappings are pranks or almost harmless practical jokes so maybe a little more explanation is in order, so here it goes:
Yes, if you get a call from someone telling you they have your wife while she’s right next to you or your kids and you can verify that they are in school in five minutes its not much a big deal. Not pleasant, but not dangerous. These kind of very rudimentary cons go along the lines of the Nigerian prince email. Some people will fall for it, while lots of folks wont. The problem starts when it’s a bit more advanced than a random phone call and there’s more and better intel involved. The key for a good virtual kidnaping is knowledge and timing. You have to know that the person is cut from communication with the family, you have to know there’s going to be enough time, and its even better if the family was not expecting to be unable to communicate.
A couple examples that have happened before. A guy at the office has a mistress. Someone there knows that while the wife thinks he’s working, he’s really at the hotel, and he turns his phone off. Or maybe the mistress(or maybe it’s a prostitute) knows this, shares the information with accomplices. Lets say they have an hour to work with. They call, tell the wife they know who his husband is, maybe send a picture, and that she has one hour to give them $100.000. She calls his husband and is unable to communicate. She gets a call again demanding the money. She says she hasn’t got that kind of money, that she only has X amount available. This has happened with sudden, unexpected trips, even with new jobsites where there’s poor signal. It has happen with people that lost their phone or got their phone stolen (and the wrong person happened to catch that bit of information, or stole the phone themselves). Basically any moment when you’re a) unable to be reached b) some scumbag knows about it, it can be used against you.
This is where it gets scary. While virtual kidnapping are still pretty bad in terms of getting money taken away from you, an express kidnapping is very much a real one. Basically the criminals just drive around and randomly pick up a victim based on looks, the car he/she drives, the clothes worn or even just the neighborhood the person is in. In Argentina they specifically targeted private school kids based on their uniform. When they so a private school uniform they knew that person at least had 500 bucks or so for school, so logically he was likely to have money. It got so bad that for some times many schools allowed pupils not to wear uniforms any more. So the victim is snatched, the family is contacted and money is requested for the vicitms safe release.
There’s several reasons why express kidnappings are so common, in many ways so successful and hard to stop.
1)Time. Its fast, a couple hours, maybe a few minutes even. In general smaller amounts of money are requested, maybe what’s available at home or what can be accessed with a quick trip to the bank. With so little time there’s a chance the police wont even be contacted, and if they are, there’s not much they can do, organize and formulate a plan.
2)Mobility. Many times the victim isn’t even located in a specific spot. Victims are usually kept mobile in the same vehicle they were taken. Maybe they take him driving around ATMs before making the call for ransom. Criminals drive the person around town while making the call and arranging the delivery of money. Many times the victims cell phone is used, but by driving around its practically impossible to track them to the exact location once the phone is disabled. Combined with the fast nature of the crime, it’s unlikely that it will be even reported, let alone tracked.
3)Lack of connection between kidnapper and victim. In traditional kidnappings there’s a leak of some kind, or someone that knew about the victim and his financial situation. Usually a business partner, acquaintance or even family members are involved in the conspiracy. There’s no such thing in an express kidnap. The victim and kidnappers don’t know one another at all. This make it extra difficult for the police to investigate and find a suspect.
Express kidnappings are still a daily problem in Argentina. I know of people that have been kidnapped and held captive for days. I even know one guy that was kidnapped on two occasions and escaped both! But express kidnaps are far more common and the advice given to the victims that bothered going to the police was always the same: just pay and get it over with.
Fernando “FerFAL” Aguirre is the author of “The Modern Survival Manual: Surviving the Economic Collapse” and “Bugging Out and Relocating: When Staying is not an Option”.