Police have located a missing teen in Utah who was the victim of a so-called “cyber-kidnapping.”
Chinese exchange student Kai Zhuang, 17, was reportedly found in a tent in the freezing Utah weather after being reported missing by his high school.
Initially, the teen was thought to have been kidnapped, but later revealed that he and his family fell victim to cyber-kidnapping.
In cyber-kidnapping situations, adversaries will demand that victims isolate themselves, making it appear as though they’re being held captive. Then cyber criminals will use this to extort the victim's family.
Often, foreign exchange students are targeted in these attacks, and their families follow orders for fear of being harmed, police said.
The family received “continuous threats from the kidnappers,” according to a press release. Zhaung’s parents contacted the school after receiving a ransom photo of their son, after which they sent $80,000 to a bank account in China.
According to Riverdale Police, Zhuang had purchased camping equipment and had attempted a camping trip. On December 20th, local police feared for his safety and returned the teen to his host family.
At the time, Zhuang didn’t disclose his situation to the police or his host family, and the unknown cyber-kidnappers continued to control him.
Under orders of the adversaries and in dangerous conditions, the victim isolated himself in a tent in the Brigham City canyon area, 27 miles north of Riverdale.
Zhuang was located in the mountains near Brigham City on Sunday at a campsite “alive but very cold and scared.”
Zhuang followed directions from cybercriminals, who demanded that he remain in isolation. The teen was found at the scene after using his phone and bank records.
One police officer hiked the mountainside and located the teen, who was very happy to see law enforcement.
According to Riverdale Police, “The victim had no heat source inside the tent, only a heat blanket, a sleeping bag, limited food and water, and several phones that were presumed to be used to carry out the cyber kidnapping."
The investigation into this cyber-kidnapping is still ongoing, and police urge anyone who has fallen victim to cyber-kidnapping to eliminate contact, avoid sending funds, and contact the police immediately.
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