By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily
Law enforcement officials are warning Wyoming residents about potential scams in which the family members of missing persons are contacted with ransom requests or threats.
The warning comes on the heels of an earlier notice from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) this past spring that cautioned about an increase in scammers targeting vulnerable family members.
The scammers have now targeted people involved with posts on the Missing People of Wyoming Facebook page, according to page administrator Desirée Tinoco, who said she’s aware of at least two incidents of scammers contacting people who have posted on the page.
In one case, a woman who listed her phone number on a post about her missing brother told Tinoco she had received random “weird” messages from men whose contact information she deleted. She eventually removed her contact info altogether.
Another woman who posted about her missing daughter shared a text with Cowboy State Daily in which someone with an out-of-state phone number had texted her threatening to kill her daughter if she didn’t pay him $7,000.
She immediately flagged the message as a scam and reported it to local law enforcement agencies, but she said she found it troubling that someone would prey on vulnerable people with missing family members.
These types of scams are par for the course, according to Amanda Waldron, private investigator with the national non-profit We Help the Missing, particularly when reward money is involved.
Waldron is working with the family of Chance Englebert, a Moorcroft man who has been missing for more than two years. The reward for information leading to the discovery of Englebert is now $17,000.Waldron estimated she gets text messages from scammers about three to five times a week regarding the case.
Some of the “tips” are lengthy and detailed, involving confessions of fear about turning in the culprit or location of a weapon that may have been involved in Englebert’s disappearance.
Others confess to guilt for even inquiring about the reward money. It’s her job to field out the legitimate tips from the scammers, who never seem to stop trying.
In other cases, Waldron has been contacted by scammers claiming to have a runaway who they’d be willing to turn over for a ransom.
Unfortunately, the FBI warned, the scammers care nothing about what the families might be going through as they try to extort money from the family through social media posts. The scammers often gather information about the missing person and family to legitimize their ransom demands.
Typically, the scam takes the form of telephone calls asking for ransom payments for missing people the caller claims to have abducted. The person allegedly abducted is reported to be in imminent danger.
The most common scam, according to the FBI, is contacting family members using the phone numbers listed on “missing person” posters or by reaching out via messaging applications on social media. The scammers then demand ransoms, generally between $5,000 and $10,000.
Anyone who believes they’ve been targeted or are a victim of an extortion related to a missing person case is asked to contact their local law enforcement agency or their local FBI field office at www.fbi.gov