'Virtual Kidnapping' Is Now a Thing for Touring Bands to Worry About

Meet Delorean, a Spanish synth-pop band that's garnered a fair amount of critical acclaim over the past five years. The dudes of Delorean were passing through Mexico City earlier this week when their tour reached a hiccup. They were "virtually kidnapped."

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Meet Delorean, a Spanish synth-pop band that's garnered a fair amount of critical acclaim over the past five years. The dudes of Delorean were passing through Mexico City earlier this week when their tour reached a hiccup. They weren't hit with food poisoning or gear theft or any of the other myriad mishaps known to plague touring acts. They were "virtually kidnapped," which is to say they were taken captive and held for ransom—without actually being taken captive and held in any physical capacity.

Thankfully, they are all safe and well now, though it's unclear to what extent they were genuinely unsafe to begin with. What is clear is that the ordeal was as genuinely terrifying as it was bizarre.

Here's how it began, according to a statement the band just released confirming their safety:

On Monday morning October 7th we received a phone call at our hotel room in Mexico City from a person posing as a hotel security officer. We were informed that there was a security threat at the hotel. What followed for the next 30 hours was an experience where the threat of death was real due to the psychological manipulation inflicted on us by our kidnappers.

On the advice of that phone call, SPIN reports, the members made their way to a second hotel, where they were ordered to give up their cell phones, withdraw money from an ATM, and buy new phones to use to stay in touch with their virtual captors. Then they were asked to call their families and let them know they were being held for a ransom of five million pesos per person.

Reportedly members of Mexico's Zetas gang, the kidnappers never used physical violence or materialized in person, but they did claim to be watching and told the band members they could be shot at any time if instructions were defied. Thankfully, police intervened. ("Thanks to the fantastic work of the National Police in Spain, Ertzantza, Interpol and the Federal Police in Mexico," the band's letter reads, "we were successfully rescued yesterday morning.") As it turns out, the members were never being held by gunmen at all, says The Guardian. But who can blame them for following along?

The band's letter tells us that "this could have occurred anywhere in the world." But virtual kidnapping has become a disturbingly common phenomenon in Mexico, where, in 2008, The New York Times dubbed it a "crime craze [that] has capitalized on the raw nerves of a country that has been terrorized by the real thing for years." Dozens of gangs were said to be involved, coldly capitalizing on a "collective psychosis" surrounding kidnapping in the country. Most cases were simpler than the plot that trapped Delorean. In some, parents were made to believe their children had been snatched:

Ms. Bard found herself filling a bag with valuables — a clear plastic bag, just as the man ordered. He wanted jewelry, particularly gold, and was disappointed when she told him that she had a Timex watch, not a Rolex.

He also told her the money she collected did not have to be in pesos. He would accept dollars and euros, as well. “When I picked up the phone, a girl was yelling, ‘Mama!’ ” Ms. Bard said. “I thought it was my daughter, and I was telling her to calm down. All she said was ‘Mama! Mama! They have me!’ ”

Could this happen anywhere? Sure. Especially as the Internet continues providing new avenues for identity theft. But whether the scam would work—which is to say, whether or not societal anxieties and widespread crime patterns would fuel its success rate—is an entirely different question. Delorean, thankfully, seems to have escaped relatively unscathed.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.