Phone extortion scam targeting relatives of Boston-area college students

Boston Police report somebody's reading up on local college students on their social-media accounts, then calling their parents or grandparents to say the students have been kidnapped and to demand ransom via FedEx.

Students in Boston are not being kidnapped, police say.

It is not uncommon for the caller to know basic details about the victim's life, including names of family members, places of employment, and school information. It is possible that this information is gathered through internet searches or websites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. In some cases, the caller phones several members of the same family, extracting information from one person that is then leveraged against a relative to increase the credibility of the caller's claims.

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Why does this work?

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Everyone (or should I say every college student) has a cell phone these days. If you got one of these kidnap calls, wouldn't you immediately call or text your kid to say, "R U OK?"

Well yes, but...

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They are asking for money to be sent by Fed-Ex, so before dialing 1800FedEx, I would THINK that people would dial 1800-My-Kid and check whether this was legit.

Not necessarily

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I can put a caller on speaker phone and open a different program. But that means the perpetrator will have called my cell since I don't have a land line.

Why it works

When somebody called my mom, claiming to be my son "in a Mexican jail," he told her "Don't tell Dad, he'll be really mad." She didn't know his cell number. She called me anyway, because she didn't know how to do a wire transfer. They were right, I was really mad -- but not at my son. I knew he was at work in VA. If the crook had chosen a less-technical payment method, he would have been richer, and my mom poorer.

Scammers pull out all the stops

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They use tricks to keep you from *using* your common sense, and to keep you out of communication with other people who could either falsify the story or use *their* common sense. The idea is to put you into a panic and restrict access to information. A common tactic is to invent a reason why you can't hang up and call back, and transfer your call to cab companies etc. as needed so that you never have a moment to call someone else.

this scam...

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was included in a recent episode of Black-ish.

This happened to me two-three

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This happened to me two-three years ago with a similar variation. I didn't answer the first time, so he got my name from my voice mail when he called back.

He said his cousin and my brother got into a fender bender and got into an argument (so far this is my brother) and the cousin pulled a gun out and were now demanding i wire $500 to him.

The guy tells you they will kill your brother if you hang up, so you can't call anyone.

It's pretty nerve-wracking, so for the tough guys here, it's no so simple if it's something that's never happened to you, and for someone in my case, who had never been a part of something like this before.

I stalled for like 30 minutes on the phone with the guy and was able to think to email my parents. They responded that my brother was fine and I hung up.

The story made a bunch of local police logs. Some people gave him the money.