Argentina’s Extortion Gangs Move to ‘Virtual’ Kidnappings

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The arrest of six members of a family running an extortion gang in Buenos Aires has drawn attention to a new trend in extortion in Argentina, known regionally as “virtual kidnappings.”

La Nacion reported these extortion networks gather information on potential victims through techniques such as running false promotions on the street where they gather names and telephone numbers, or by gleaning it from social media. The gang then calls the victims, usually in the early hours of the morning, and tells the person answering the phone a family member has been kidnapped. In the background another gang member cries, screams and pleads for them to send the ransom.

If the person does not fall for the ruse, the gang immediately hangs up and moves on to the next number. Some gangs make up to 200 calls a night, according to La Nacion.

There have been several such gangs dismantled throughout Argentina over the last year, including one in the city of Rosario. Since police dismantled the Rosario network, there have been no further reports of attempted “virtual kidnappings” in the city, but there has been a series of reports of extortion attempts in which callers say they are members of the notorious local drug gang Los Monos, reported La Nacion. The callers then threaten to take over their victims homes and make them into drug labs if they are not paid. 

InSight Crime Analysis

Extortion in Argentina has yet to reach the epidemic levels seen in countries such as Colombia, Mexico and the Northern Triangle in Central America, but the growth of homegrown organized crime networks in the country means it may well become a major security concern in the future. As it becomes more prevalent, criminals are likely to develop new techniques to capitalize on a growing market, such as those exposed in the recent cases in Buenos Aires and Rosario.

SEE ALSO:  Coverage of Extortion

Both “virtual kidnapping” and impersonating drug gangs echo extortion methods employed elsewhere in the region. In Colombia, for example, extortion gangs have used techniques such as pretending to be police holding a family member under arrest and soliciting a bribe to let them go, or impersonating armed groups to intimidate victims. In Mexico, groups also use the specter of some of the country’s most prominent criminal groups to scare victims into depositing money into a bank account.

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