LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The FBI Little Rock office is warning about Spanish-speaking scammers targeting Natural State residents.

According to agents, a scam starts when a victim receives a phone call from someone they do not know who tells them about a loved one who has been kidnapped, even though no such thing has occurred. Victims are told that the victim will be freed if money is sent.

Authorities say the scammers coerce victims to act quickly, and in some cases thousands of dollars are lost by victims before the scam is discovered.

 “Virtual kidnappings depend on speed, fear, and the expectation that victims won’t contact law enforcement,” special agent in charge James A. Dawson said. “Scammers know they only have a limited time to receive a ransom before their plot unravels. We want potential victims to contact the FBI immediately so we can identify and disrupt these criminal enterprises.”

Investigators have determined that the scammers check social media accounts to find out who is traveling out of the country. Once they have a name, they contact family members and insist that money be sent to them.

The FBI has reported increased calls from Mexico and Central America targeting specific area codes.

The FBI offered these tips to spot a scam phone call:

  • Calls are usually made from an international phone number or display an out-of-state area code.
  • Scammers may call multiple times to speak with their targeted victims.
  • Scammers will go to great lengths to keep you on the phone.
  • Virtual kidnappers play recorded screams in the background to make the call sound more realistic.
  • Criminals will try to prevent you from calling or locating the “kidnapped” victim.
  • Ransom money is only accepted via wire transfer service

The bureau also offers these tips if you get a scam call:

  • Stay calm and avoid sharing information about you or your family during the call.
  • Request to speak to the victim directly; ask for “proof of life.”
  • Listen carefully to the voice of the kidnapped victim and ask questions only the victim would know.
  • Request the kidnapped victim call back from their cell phone.
  • Attempt to contact the victim via their legitimate social media accounts.
  • Don’t agree to pay a ransom and never give out any financial information.

Anyone who gets a call like this should contact the FBI immediately.