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'Virtual Kidnapping' hit entertainment industry elite

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On June 13th at 12:44pm, the wife of a prominent music industry veteran got a call from 917 and was hungry. A man’s voice with a strong accent told the woman that her daughter (the name he used) had just been involved in a car accident and was waiting for help in the back of the car. assured the woman that her daughter was fine and hung up immediately. As the woman was relaying her conversation to her husband, the phone rang again. This time the other person’s voice was not very pleasant.

The stranger said he was a member of a Mexican drug cartel and told the woman that plans had changed. He intended to drive the girl across the southern border. If a woman doesn’t meet her colleague in a suburban Walmart parking lot and pay her $10,000 in cash, the teen will be raped and dismembered. A man coolly praised her girl’s blonde hair, saying it was “so pretty.” The woman heard a voice behind her that she thought was her daughter. “Mom, help me,” cried a muffled voice. The executive called her daughter’s mobile phone multiple times, but got no response.

After all, the girl was nowhere near the Mexican border. She was sitting in a classroom at a private school in New York City, attended by many entertainment industry kids, finishing her final exams. Her phone was off.Families fall prey to scams that upset elites from New York to Los Angeles

Chris Pierson, CEO of private security expert BlackCloak, a company that provides digital protection services to celebrities, high-profile executives, and several music labels, said that over the past few months, he’s been using similar methods. We have worked with dozens of clients targeted by Scams themselves are nothing new, but the level of sophistication has evolved. He said certain zip codes in Manhattan and Beverly Hills were particularly hard hit.

“If [the scammers] Targeting people who have a lot to lose – name, reputation, money – if you really hone your skills, you can get more out of these bigger fish.” Data Privacy Commission, Department of Homeland Security and Cybersecurity Subcommittee.

A New York music industry executive was one such person caught in the crosshairs. “My wife thought it sounded like [our daughter], but I don’t know. “She was caught in the panic of the moment,” says the executive, who did not want to use his name for fear of being targeted again. We’re living in a horror movie and this is the worst thing that can happen as a parent.It’s the worst feeling possible.”

Before the couple hopped in the car and drove to their assigned Walmart, executives called Herman Weisberg, a private investigator they had worked with in the past. Weisberg, a former NYPD official for Intelligence, quickly called the school to locate the teenage girl and found the scammers using regular phones.

As the COVID-19 lockdowns ended and schools transitioned from online to in-person learning, Weisberg began receiving calls from about 200 clients in New York and Los Angeles with similar stories.

“The person said he got chills down his spine when he was told not to contact law enforcement,” he says. “And they called me frantically and said, ‘What should I do?’ .”

He points out that high-profile figures are particularly vulnerable because the names of their descendants are often published. These children have left digital footprints on various social media platforms, sharing details of value to criminals, such as upcoming exams. In fact, exam week provided a perfect opportunity for motivated scammers to strike, given that students had to turn off their phones for extended periods of time.

“It doesn’t take long to figure out where celebrity kids go to high school, who they hang out with, where they go to Starbucks,” says Weisberg. “I had to enter [to the accounts of] At least one of my clients exposed too much information about their children’s lives, washing away the damage already done. “

It’s unclear how widespread the problem is, but Pierson believes criminals gather information about their targets through data intermediaries, legal means of gathering information for marketers. .

“Data broker information is important. [scammers] Drip small pieces of information so that you can get something akin to credibility with the intended victim. [the victim] You think it’s private, but it really isn’t. And that creates trust, and in the victim’s mind, they can say, ‘Oh my God, something is really wrong. ”

Today’s scammers targeting the entertainment industry’s one-percentbling ring, operated in Hollywood from 2008 to 2009. In that case, criminals targeted Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan’s home when they found out they were out of town. Information was gathered from social media posts.

The NYPD and FBI are also tracking similar scams. The FBI describes the phenomenon as “virtual kidnapping“The caller may try to convince the victim that her daughter has been kidnapped by shouting for help to the young woman in the background during the call,” it warned. Similarly, the NYPD’s Office of Community Affairs states:Kidnapping/Medical Extortion Phone FraudAnd “there are a few cases where scammers claim that relatives of victims will be kidnapped and killed unless the ransom is paid by wire transfer via Western Union.”

Simon Newton, head of London-based security firm Askari Secure Ltd., says he became aware of the spread of the scam in the UK several years ago. None of his clients, including Bella Hadid, Kendall Jenner and Rita Ora, have been targeted, but he says he warned them to be careful.

“Unfortunately, in this day and age, it is very difficult to stop this type of fraud from occurring,” Newton adds. “Especially when it comes to the wealthy and famous, a lot of their information is in the public domain. If you want to avoid this situation, having little or no footprint on the internet is best. As we know, this isn’t always possible, and it’s important to protect your information as much as possible.”

If you have a celebrity or public figure, scammers can divulge enough public personal information to convince you that your loved one is in grave danger. Sources say the Hollywood studio is aware of the threat and security has been a hot topic among his team.

Weisberg recently worked with a high-profile actress client who was targeted in particularly gruesome ways. The offender claimed her family was in danger and sent a photo of the mutilated victim to warn her of what could be done if she failed to pay. , says he scoured the internet to see if the image is public. Since that was not the case, he suspected that the fraudsters in this unusual case might actually have had ties to the cartel.

Ultimately, the ruse is a subset of the more mundane phone scams with millions of victims.

“Not many people have a private investigator in their Rolodex,” notes a music industry executive who has never reported a family case to the police. “What about those who don’t?”

The rest of us are relatively easy to defend against, Weisberg replies. Please request.

“The threat is seldom real,” he says. “These people can pinpoint someone’s daily life just by sitting on their phone and watching from afar. And they hope one in 100 of them feeds on her.” I just stay.”