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Chinese student found in US woods after ‘cyber kidnapping’ scam

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A 17-year-old Chinese exchange student, Kai Zhuang, who fell prey to a scam demanding an $80,000 ransom from his parents, has been discovered alive but cold and scared in a tent within the Utah wilderness, as reported by the Riverdale Police Department.

The ordeal began when his parents in China alerted officials at his host high school in Riverdale, Utah, expressing concerns about his apparent kidnapping and the ransom demand.

The cyber kidnapping involved instructing the victim to isolate and provide staged photos of captivity, which were then used to extort money from their family under the threat of harm.

Following an extensive investigation, including the analysis of bank records and phone ping data, law enforcement zeroed in on a tent situated approximately 25 miles north in a vast area near Brigham City.

Fearing for the victim’s safety in Utah’s cold weather, the police located Kai in a tent lacking a heat source, equipped only with a heat blanket, a sleeping bag, limited food and water, and several phones presumably used in the cyber kidnapping scheme. A vigilant sergeant, hiking on foot up a mountainside, made the crucial discovery and found Kai alive but severely affected by the cold.

Upon rescue, Kai, who had received an $80,000 payment from his family during the scam, immediately requested a warm cheeseburger and desired contact with his family.

The host family in Riverdale was initially unaware of his disappearance, having last heard him in the kitchen on the morning of the incident. The Riverdale Police collaborated with the FBI, the US embassy in China, and Chinese authorities in their efforts to locate the missing teenager.

Highlighting the prevalence of cyber kidnapping targeting foreign exchange students, especially those from China, the Chinese embassy in Washington issued a warning to its citizens in the United States. The advisory urged increased safety awareness, necessary precautions, and vigilance against virtual kidnapping and other forms of telecom and online fraud.

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