MCPS warns of virtual extortion

Graphic+by+Avery+Johnston.
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MCPS warns of virtual extortion

Graphic by Avery Johnston.

Graphic by Avery Johnston.

Graphic by Avery Johnston.

Graphic by Avery Johnston.

By Emma Sorkin

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Multiple MCPS families recently became targets of what the FBI has deemed a virtual kidnapping scam. Community members received calls from unfamiliar, often international, numbers with screaming in the background and a claim from the caller that he or she is in possession of the person’s child, and intends to do the child harm unless a ransom is paid, according to an FBI memo.

To combat the scan, the FBI asked MCPS principals to send an email to their respective communities detailing the extortion phone scam Feb. 15.

“In an attempt prevent our community from falling victim to the scam, schools proactively sent out a message providing steps for families to follow if they receive the call,” MCPS spokesman Derek Turner said.

These steps, provided by The Montgomery County Police Department (MCPD), include contacting the child’s school, refusing to wire money in response to a ransom and contacting the police either by 911 or the non-emergency number, 301-279-8000.

This is not the first extortion of its kind, MCPD spokeswoman Sergeant Rebecca Innocenti said.

“The Police Department has received reports of this type of telephone scam in the past.” she said. “During these calls, scammers present a variety of emergency situations, to include a loved one who is in jail, has been in an accident, has been kidnapped or has been physically hurt.”

While this type of scam has been present throughout the county, there have been few—if any—reports within the Whitman community.

“Nobody at Whitman has told me that they have [received these calls], and I don’t know that they would,” principal Alan Goodwin said. “But MCPS did their due diligence, that is what they should do, to warn us when these things are happening.”

Despite this, parents shouldn’t be afraid to call the school as safety of students is always a top priority, MCPS said in the statement.

“If families receive the call, we encourage them to reach out to their child’s school to confirm they are there,” Turner said. “And to follow up directly with the police.”

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