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Chinese Exchange Student Found In US Woods After Kidnapping Scam

US police say 17-year-old Chinese exchange student, Kai Zhuang, has been found alive but “cold and scared” in a tent in the Utah wilderness after falling victim to a “cyber kidnapping” scam, where his parents were extorted for $118,000.

Zhuang was reported missing on Thursday by his parents in China, after they informed officials at his high school in Riverdale, Urah that a ransom demand had been made and it appeared he had been abducted.

The incident followed a common pattern of “cyber kidnapping”, where perpetrators instruct a victim to isolate and share photos depicting as if they are being held captive. These images are then used to coerce the victim’s family into making ransom payments, as the victims fear potential harm to their loved ones.

At the time, Riverdale Police Department Chief Casey Warren said there was no evidence to suggest that Zhuang was forcefully taken from his home.

An extensive investigation involving Riverdale police, the FBI and authorities in China was subsequently luanched.

Bank records, purchases and phone records were scrutinised which led police to a site 40 kilomtres north of Riverdale, near Brigham City.

“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,” the Riverdale Police Department said after he was found on Sunday.

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Zhuang was found in a tent with a heated blanket, a sleeping bag, limited food and water and several phones presumed to have been used to carry out the cyber kidnapping.

Riverdale police said he was freezing but alive.

The host family where Zhuang was living said they were unaware he was not in the house at the time, having heard him in the kitchen in the early morning of the day he dissapeared.

A spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington adviced Chinese citizens in the United States to boost their safety awarness.

“Take necessary precautions, and stay vigilant against ‘virtual kidnapping’ and other forms of telecom and online fraud,” the spokesperson said.

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