Utah Finds Chinese Exchange Student After Alleged Cyber Kidnapping


A young Chinese exchange student was the victim of an international cyber kidnapping plot and was nearly frozen to death in a tent in Salt Lake City as per the authorities.

According to authorities, Kai Zhuang, 17, fled his host home on December 28 after fraudsters convinced him that his family in China was being threatened. After Zhuang sent them a photo indicating he was being detained against his will, his family told police they had paid a $80,000 ransom.

Investigators said Sunday that they found him alone and “very cold and scared” in a snowy canyon northeast of the city, and they released helicopter and drone video of them rescuing Zhuang and removing his tent. Temperatures had dropped below freezing while he was away.

Zhuang’s disappearance made international headlines, but authorities now believe he was deceived into fleeing in order to force his family to pay a ransom.

“We believed the victim was isolating himself at the direction of the cyber kidnappers in a tent,” a police spokesperson stated.

Investigators stated that they are collaborating with the FBI and the Chinese Embassy to find the kidnappers.

Utah Finds Chinese Exchange Student After Alleged Cyber Kidnapping

“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 have been used to carry out the cyber kidnapping,” the Riverdale Police Department stated in a statement released on December 31. “The victim only wanted to speak to his family to ensure they were safe and requested a warm cheeseburger, both of which were accomplished on the way back to Riverdale Police Department.”

Police in another Utah city claimed they spotted Zhuang with camping gear on December 20, became concerned since the weather was cold, and returned him to his host family. He didn’t inform them he was already being controlled by cyber kidnappers, according to authorities.

When his family in China contacted his Utah school on December 28, authorities learned his camping gear was stolen from his host home and tracked his cell phone to the Brigham Canyon region. They then conducted a thorough search using aircraft and drones, while an investigator climbed up the canyon.

“Riverdale Police Det. Sgt. (Derek) Engstrom hiked on foot up the mountainside, and came across the victim’s tent in a wooded area,” the Riverdale Police Department said. “When Sergeant Engstrom approached the victim inside the tent, he discovered that he was alive but very cold and scared.” “When the victim saw police, he was relieved.”

According to investigators, Zhuang’s case represents a growing type of scam in which cybercriminals contact both the student and their family separately, convince the student that their family is being threatened, and force them to take photos indicating they have been kidnapped. According to investigators, the cybercriminals then use the photographs to deceive the family into paying a ransom.

“The cyber kidnappers continue to extort the family by using fear, tactics, photos, and voice recordings of the victim, leading the family to believe the kidnappers are with the victim causing them harm,” Riverdale police said in a statement.

This is a more sophisticated form of virtual abduction pioneered in part by Mexican prison convicts who dupe wealthy Americans into paying ransoms.

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