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FBI El Paso and USBP Warns Public of an Increase of Kidnapping for Ransom Extortion Crimes in the Borderland

The FBI El Paso Field Office’s Violent Crime Task Force with assistance of  the US Border Patrol El Paso Sector, were able to rescue twenty-four individuals that were being  held against their will. 

The FBI and the US Border Patrol (USBP) continue to see an increase in crimes involving  kidnapping for ransom extortion crimes directly affecting undocumented immigrants who have  paid human smugglers to bring them across the U.S.-MX border. FBI El Paso and USPB want to  bring this very serious public safety matter to the public’s attention so they can be aware of signs associated with these crimes so they can notify the FBI. 

“As a community, we should be concerned about the increase of these kidnappings and the threat  they pose to the public safety of our city,” said Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey R. Downey. “We  need the help of the entire community to see suspicious activity occurring in our neighborhoods.  We are asking community members to help eradicate this violent crime from existing in our city. I would like to thank USBP, DHS Homeland Security Investigations, El Paso Constables Office,  

and the Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo Tribal Police Department for their assistance in this ongoing  investigation.” 

“Border Patrol Agents in the El Paso Sector maximize their success with strong and effective law  enforcement partnerships to help disrupt threats and illicit activity conducted by Transnational  Criminal Organizations,” said El Paso Sector Chief Patrol Agent Gloria I. Chavez. “Extortion  and holding migrants against their will are common and nefarious practices done by human  smugglers that prove a complete disregard for human lives. We are committed to jointly  targeting these Transnational Criminal Organizations.” 

Kidnapping extortion crimes exploit victims through threat and/or actual harm (physical or  emotional), arrest, legal action or other demands in an attempt to force the victim into handing  over money. These threats are aimed at the victim’s person or property or to their family and  friends. Kidnapping for ransom and virtual kidnappings have increased in the region and are  some of the most common extortion crimes investigated by FBI El Paso. 

The FBI continues to see a shift of the extortion calls being directed towards undocumented  immigrants who have paid human smugglers to bring them across the U.S.-MX border and their  family members in the U.S. or their country of origin. They are quickly trapped in a very  frightening nightmare as other human smuggling organizations are kidnapping them from the  original human smugglers’ stash houses and then begin the process of extorting family members  for monetary demands for their release.

Many of these victims don’t report the incident because of fears they will be deported due to  their immigration status. FBI El Paso wants to stress the focus of the investigation is not on a  person’s immigration status, but instead the extortion crime.  

The kidnappings happen when the family member is told, over the phone, his or her family  member has been kidnapped. Then, through deception and threats, criminals coerce victims to  pay a ransom. On average, the family sends thousands of dollars to the scammers before  contacting law enforcement. 

If you receive a phone call from someone who demands payment of a ransom for a kidnapped  victim, the following should be considered: 

Stay Calm. 

Try to slow the situation down. 

Avoid sharing information about you or your family during the call. 

Request to speak to the victim directly. Ask, “How do I know my loved one is okay?” Listen carefully to the voice of the kidnapped victim if they speak and ask questions only  they would know. 

If they don’t let you speak to the victim, ask them to describe the victim. While staying on the line with alleged kidnappers, try to call the alleged kidnap victim  from another phone or attempt to physically locate the victim. 

Attempt to text or contact the victim via social media. 

To buy time, repeat the caller’s request and tell them you are writing down the demand,  or tell the caller you need time to get things moving. 

Don’t directly challenge or argue with the caller. Keep your voice low and steady. Contact the local authorities at 911 or the FBI El Paso at (915) 832-5000. 

Many undocumented immigrants are kept in stash houses located across El Paso. A stash house  can be a house, shed, or any type of structure used to hide illegal activity from law enforcement.  Stash houses are meant to blend in, so they can be found even in the middle of a city or gated  community.  

Here are some red flags to identify a stash house: 

If you don’t know who lives at the residence 

A lot of trash constantly being placed outside homes, multiple water jugs or disposable  plates lying around 

Different types of vehicles, especially vans and pickup trucks, will enter and exit the  garage at different hours of the day or night (quite often they prefer to work in the night time or early morning hours.) 

The vehicles arriving at the stash house will have different license plates on them,  including Arizona, California, Texas, New Mexico and Mexico. They may often display  paper “buyer” or “dealer” tags. They may also use these license plates interchangeably  with all of the vehicles. 

Large amounts of food and water are taken to the house on a daily basis. If you are the landlord and somebody is hesitant to provide information or they appear to  use a false name or something like that, that might raise a red flag.

If you have any question about whether the call is a virtual kidnapping or a legitimate  kidnapping, contact FBI El Paso at 915-832-5000 or call 911 immediately. 

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