Updated January 2nd, 2024 at 13:18 IST

Shocking Cyber Kidnapping Scam: Chinese exchange student found in US woods

A Chinese exchange student, targeted in a "cyber kidnapping" scam where his parents were extorted for $80,000, has been discovered alive but "cold and scared."

Reported by: Manasvi Asthana
Cyber Kidnapping Scam | Image:AP
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A Chinese exchange student, targeted in a "cyber kidnapping" scam where his parents were extorted for $80,000, has been discovered alive but "cold and scared" in a tent in the Utah wilderness, as reported by the police. Seventeen-year-old Kai Zhuang was reported missing on Thursday, Dec 28, following his parents' notification to officials at his Utah high school in Riverdale. They suspected he had been kidnapped, and a ransom demand was made.

Cyber kidnapping

The incident followed the standard cyber kidnapping approach, wherein "kidnappers" instruct the victim to isolate and submit photos simulating captivity. These images are then used to extort payment from the victim's family, who comply fearing harm otherwise.

Following an extensive investigation involving the examination of bank records, purchases and phone ping records over several days, the police were persuaded that he was isolating in a tent approximately 25 miles (40 kilometers) north near Brigham City.

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The Riverdale Police Department expressed heightened concern for the victim's safety and said, "Due to the cold weather in Utah this time of year, we became additionally concerned for the victim's safety in that he may freeze to death overnight."

Discovery made inside the tent

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A sergeant, trekking on foot up a mountainside, stumbled upon Kai's tent. The tent lacked a heat source but contained essentials like a "heat blanket, a sleeping bag, limited food and water and several phones presumably used for the cyber kidnapping," as stated by the department. The detective reached out to the victim inside the tent and confirmed that he was alive but extremely cold and frightened.

Kai's rescue

Following his rescue, Kai expressed a desire for a "warm cheeseburger" and a conversation with his family, who had paid $80,000 to bank accounts in China as instructed by the scammers, as reported by the Riverdale police.

Initially, Kai's host family in Riverdale was unaware of his disappearance, having heard him in the kitchen early on the day he went missing.

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As per the press release, the Riverdale police collaborated with the FBI, the US embassy in China, and Chinese officials in the search for the missing teenager.

According to the Riverdale police, cyber kidnappers have recently focused on targeting foreign exchange students, with a particular emphasis on Chinese exchange students.

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Published January 2nd, 2024 at 13:18 IST