Missing Chinese Foreign Exchange Student Found in Tent in Utah, Victim of Cyber Kidnapping Scam

Host family had no clue that the student has been kidnapped

In a shocking revelation, the Riverdale Police Department disclosed the discovery of 17-year-old Chinese exchange student Kai Zhuang, who had become a victim of what authorities are terming a "cyber-kidnapping." Found alone and cold in a makeshift campsite near Brigham City, Zhuang's ordeal unfolded after he was reported missing by his high school on Thursday.

Chinese Foreign Exchange Student

Zhuang's parents in China received a ransom photo of their son, prompting them to send $80,000 to bank accounts in China "due to continuous threats from the kidnappers," according to a press release issued on Sunday. The police, utilizing Zhuang's bank and phone records, successfully located him on Sunday at the mountain campsite where he had followed instructions from his cyber-kidnappers to isolate himself.

The incident adhered to a familiar modus operandi of cyber kidnapping, wherein the perpetrators instruct the victim to isolate themselves and submit photos depicting a staged captivity. These images are subsequently forwarded to the victim's family with the intent of coercing ransom payments.

Despite being found "alive but very cold and scared," Zhuang had no heat source inside the tent, only possessing a heat blanket, a sleeping bag, limited food and water, and several phones presumed to be used for the cyber-kidnapping.

The Brigham City Fire Department, upon encountering Zhuang, checked him for cold-related issues, and he was cleared of major medical concerns. Zhuang, visibly relieved, expressed concern for his family's safety and requested assistance from the police to speak with them.

A release from the Riverdale Police Department also revealed that over a week before being reported missing, police in Provo had encountered Zhuang on December 20 while he was attempting to camp. Despite concerns for his safety, he was returned to Riverdale, and his host family was contacted. It was disclosed on Sunday that Zhuang was already being "manipulated and controlled by the cyber-kidnappers" at that time but had not confided in anyone.

During their investigation, Riverdale police collaborated with the FBI, the US embassy in China, and Chinese officials. The FBI informed them that other foreign exchange students, particularly Chinese, have fallen victim to similar "cyber-kidnapping" scams in the US. Perpetrators threaten students, instruct them to isolate, monitor them through video calls, and demand ransom from their families.

The police disclosed that on Thursday, they visited Zhuang's host home, where the family claimed to be unaware of his disappearance. The host family stated that he was at home the previous night, and there was no evidence of forceful abduction from the residence.

The incident has raised concerns about the vulnerability of foreign exchange students to cyber-kidnapping scams, prompting authorities to work towards increased awareness and security measures within the community.