EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Virtual or “fake” kidnappings have been around for a long time, but criminals have come up with a dangerous twist, local law enforcement officials say.

Not only are anonymous callers still scaring border residents with the ruse that a relative has been kidnapped in Mexico, but now they also want them to deliver the ransom in person across the Rio Grande.

“Oftentimes these so-called kidnappers are asking people in the community to cross over into Juarez and make these payments,” said Britton Boyd, assistant special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration in El Paso. “That just adds a whole other level of complexity and danger to it because once you cross the bridge, you […] are essentially walking into the criminals’ hands.”

A virtual kidnapping is a telephone call or a message delivered via social media platforms in which criminals tell an unsuspecting victim they have abducted a loved one and will harm him or her unless a ransom is paid quickly. Sometimes a man or a woman will be heard screaming in the background for added effect, according to another federal agency, the FBI. The calls have sometimes been traced to prison facilities.

Boyd urges border residents who get these calls to take a deep breath and think things through before falling for a scam that can lead them to become real kidnapping victims.

“What we’re seeing a lot here in the border region is people calling from Mexico to persons who are living in El Paso or visiting El Paso. Oftentimes these people have connections to Mexico, so when these numbers from Mexico pop up there, they’re more inclined to answer,” he said.

Federal officials describe the calls as “traumatic” because of the speed and violence that the person on the other line uses to engage his victim. The perpetrators will try to keep their victim on the line for as long as possible and tell them they’re being watched so they don’t have time to verify the facts and to play with their emotions, to intimidate them, the FBI says.

“I think it’s important for people to just slow down and listen to what they say because a lot of times the victims will inadvertently give information that the so-called kidnapper will use against them,” Boyd said. “Remember, ‘I really didn’t have a brother or a sister traveling in this area.’ Often (the call) is very scripted. Try to give that person (who is supposedly kidnapped) a call or text. Think the scenario, then call us to report it.”

For more information and resources about surviving a virtual kidnapping scam, you can visit the FBI web page.