A foreign exchange student attending high school in Utah was recently rescued after falling victim to a cybercrime described by police as “cyber kidnapping.”

Seventeen-year-old Kai Zhuang was reported missing Thursday after his parents in China received a picture of Zhuang and a demand for money in exchange for his return, per CNN. Police located the teenager Sunday in a tent near Brigham City, Utah, and learned he had isolated himself under direction from “cyber kidnappers.”

According to ABC News, cyber kidnappers tell their victims they will harm their families unless they comply with requests to make it appear as though they have been actually abducted. Although police have not confirmed the details of Zhuang’s case, CNN reports he “asked to speak with his family to make sure they were safe.”

What is cyber kidnapping?

Cyber kidnapping is a form of crime in which victims are targeted by online attackers and coerced into isolating themselves in order to demand ransom from their families.

Per CNN, cyber kidnappers will often threaten victims’ families in order to demand their compliance and have them abandon their living situation in order to make it appear as though they have been forcefully abducted. Cyber kidnappers will then monitor the victims through video chat and use pictures the victim has taken of themselves in their isolated condition to demand money from their families, per CNN.

According to CNN, the FBI has been tracking this type of crime and believes foreign exchange students, particularly ones who come from China, are more at risk than others.

How can you protect yourself from cyber kidnapping?

Police have encouraged anyone who has been contacted by cyber kidnappers to immediately end communication and contact their police department. As with all cybercrime, people should never send money to the perpetrators.

“I want foreign exchange students to know they can trust police to protect them and to work with police to ensure their safety as well as their family’s safety abroad,” Riverdale Police Chief Casey Warren said in a statement.

Cyber kidnapping is one of many crimes that have emerged in the digital era, such as online scams and phishing. The United States Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has advised people to protect their online safety in the following ways:

  • Turn on multi-factor authentication. Use additional security apps to ensure you need more than a password to access your sensitive information.
  • Update your software. Keeping your computer’s software updated will automatically add malware protection to your devices.
  • Think before you click. Beware of pop-up ads and links sent in emails from untrusted sources.
  • Use strong passwords. It may be more convenient for you to use the same easy password for everything, but that also makes it easier for hackers. You can use a password manager to keep everything organized.