SPOKANE - A picture and plea for the safe return of a missing Spokane teen has been dominating social media. His father posted it on Friday, and it was shared more than 4,800 times. Our entire community was on high alert as police and family worked to find 17-year-old Jacob Riggs. The high school senior is back home safe after being gone for nearly four days.
The circumstances behind why he left and where he was are a family matter.
The investigation took a scary turn before Jacob returned when his father received ransom text messages. That's when the FBI became involved in the investigation. Because the case is active and ongoing, the FBI would not release any details. What they could tell us, is that there is a virtual kidnapping scam that is making the rounds throughout our country.
"Virtual kidnapping cases have been around for decades," said the FBI's Christian Parker.
And it seems it's only getting worse. A quick internet search of virtual kidnapping news stories from just the past few days, shows the FBI has their hands full hunting down computer con-artists.
"They will cast a wide net, making thousands of phone calls trying to find someone who will bite and provide information," Parker said."They try to get them to think a loved one has been kidnapped. They will then require some kind of ransom."
But sites like Facebook may make those cold calls a thing of the past. Now it's easier than ever for crooks to prey on parents as they are in the most fragile state imaginable.
"If there's a child who has gone missing for whatever reason, it's the parents natural reaction to get the word out whether it's through the media or social media," he said. "There's the details of my child, they're missing, and we're desperate to find them."
And just like that, the scammers have everything they need including the child's picture, a name, and mom or dad's phone number. The crook can easily access the family and make demands.
"It's a threat that's out there," Parker said. "It's a vulnerability. There are people who look to these vulnerabilities to exploit people.
Sometimes, they're successful. And it's easy to see why. Parents are panicked and desperate.
KHQ asked Parker if he thinks virtual kidnapping scammers were behind the texts sent to the Riggs family. He again said he could not comment as the case is ongoing.
If you have any information about who sent the ransom texts, you are urged to call crime check at 509.456.2233.