Missing persons vigil

Doren Sanford's family members hold signs with information about the 35-year-old, who's been missing since Aug. 28, while speaking to a crowd Jan. 23 in Fairbanks at a rally for missing Alaska Natives.

Alaska’s Department of Public Safety is warning people about a new scam cropping up across the state that targets the families of missing individuals.

Internet scammers have started looking for social media postings from families seeking information about a missing family member, according to a release from the department. The scammer contacts members of the family and then demands a ransom to release the missing person, who invariably has become sick and needs medical attention. The family is warned not to contact police.

“This scam is particularly disturbing and abhorrent as distraught families are already navigating the uncertainty and grief associated with their loved one’s disappearance,” said Bryan Barlow, director of the Alaska State Troopers.

The scammers demand payment through PayPal or a similar method of online banking over the Internet. Barlow said being scammed while a loved one in missing can be especially painful for families who are waiting for some word of hope.

“Not only will the family potentially fall for the scam and lose money, the scam itself can exponentially intensify the grief and anxiety they are already feeling. We must raise public awareness for these despicable scams for the wellbeing of all Alaskans," he said in the release.

If you are the recipient of a message or text asking for money in exchange for a missing loved one, do not respond to the message, the trooper release stated. Instead, report the scam to akcic@alaska.gov and notify the agency that is investigating that missing person's case.

Contact staff writer Will Morris at 459-7580.