What Is Cyber Kidnapping And How It Can Be Avoided

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What Is Cyber Kidnapping And How It Can Be Avoided

Exercise caution when receiving unexpected or unsolicited messages.

A 17-year-old Chinese exchange student, Kai Zhuang, fell victim to a “cyber-kidnapping” scam that led to his parents being extorted for $80,000 (Rs 66 lakh approx). He was later found alive but “cold and scared” in a tent in the Utah wilderness, as reported by the police. 

The incident began when Mr Zhuang’s parents in China reported him missing on Thursday, December 28, expressing concerns about a possible kidnapping and ransom demand to officials at his host high school in Riverdale, Utah.

What is cyber kidnapping?

“Cyber kidnapping” typically refers to a form of cybercrime where attackers gain unauthorised access to computer systems or data and then demand ransom in exchange for restoring access or preventing the release of sensitive information. It is a type of extortion carried out in the digital realm.

In the context of the Chinese exchange student, it likely involves a situation where the victim or their family was deceived through online communication, leading them to believe that the person was in danger or kidnapped, and a ransom was demanded for their release. These schemes often exploit emotional pressure and fear to extort money from the victims. 

In this particular instance, a thorough investigation involving bank records, purchases, and phone data led the police to believe the victim, Kai Zhuang, was isolated in a tent approximately 25 miles north of Brigham City. Fearing for Zhuang’s safety in Utah’s cold weather, authorities intensified their search, eventually locating him on Sunday, December 31. A sergeant hiking discovered Mr Zhuang’s tent, equipped only with a heat blanket, a sleeping bag, limited food and water, and several phones believed to be used for the cyber-kidnapping. Upon contact, Mr Zhuang was found “alive but very cold and scared”.

After being rescued, Kai Zhuang requested a warm cheeseburger and a conversation with his family, who had paid $80,000 during the cyber-kidnapping scam, as reported by Riverdale police.

How to not fall prey to cyber kidnapping?

Here are some general safety measures to consider:

Be Skeptical of Unsolicited Messages:

Exercise caution when receiving unexpected or unsolicited messages, especially those demanding actions or threatening consequences.

Verify Identities: 

Confirm the identity of the person sending the messages. If the person claims to be a family member or someone you know, try to verify their identity through a separate and trusted communication channel.

Avoid Sharing Sensitive Information: 

Be cautious about sharing sensitive information online, including personal details and compromising pictures. Once shared, it can be challenging to control how the information is used.

Use Privacy Settings: 

Adjust privacy settings on social media platforms to control who can see your personal information. Limit access to your profiles and be mindful of what you share publicly.

Educate Family and Friends: 

Inform your family and friends about potential cyber threats and scams. Establish a communication protocol to verify any unusual requests or messages.

Report Suspicious Activity: 

If you receive threatening or suspicious messages, report them to the relevant authorities or your local law enforcement agency.

Be Mindful of Social Engineering Tactics: 

Stay vigilant against social engineering tactics, where attackers manipulate individuals into divulging sensitive information. Be skeptical of emotional appeals and requests for urgent action.

Secure Your Devices: 

Keep your devices secure with strong passwords, two-factor authentication, and updated security software to prevent unauthorized access.

Educate Yourself: 

Stay informed about common cyber threats and scams. Awareness is a key defense against falling victim to manipulation and extortion attempts.

Consult with Professionals: 

If you believe you’ve become a target of cyber kidnapping, consider consulting with cybersecurity professionals or law enforcement agencies experienced in dealing with such cases.

The Chinese embassy in Washington issued a warning to its citizens in the US about the risks of “virtual kidnapping” and other online fraud. Authorities highlight a recent trend targeting foreign exchange students, particularly those from China.

First appeared on www.ndtv.com

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