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Exchange Student Survives ‘Cyber Kidnapping’, Parents Pay Big Ransom



Clear Facts

  • A 17-year-old Chinese foreign exchange student, Kai Zhuang, who was reported missing last week, has been found alive. The police have described the incident as a “cyber kidnapping”.
  • Zhuang’s parents in China received a ransom demand and transferred around $80,000 to bank accounts in China to pay off the kidnappers, who repeatedly threatened their child.
  • The Riverdale police, in collaboration with the FBI, have discovered that cyber kidnapping is a recent trend, particularly with Chinese foreign exchange students. The kidnappers manipulate the victims to isolate themselves and send photos that make it appear they are being held captive.

Kai Zhuang, a 17-year-old Chinese foreign exchange student, was reported missing last week. He was staying with a host family in Riverdale, Utah, when he disappeared. The host family had last heard him in the early morning hours of December 28, and thought nothing was wrong.

However, Zhuang left on the morning of December 28 and didn’t return home. His parents in China reported him missing after they received a ransom demand. They contacted school officials in Riverdale and were told by police that Zhuang’s host parents didn’t even know he was missing.

Days later, on December 31, Zhuang was found safe in a tent near Brigham City, Utah. The search for Zhuang spanned multiple counties and was aided by the FBI.

“Zhuang was very cold and scared but relieved to see police,” Riverdale Police Chief Casey Warren said in a statement released Sunday.

Zhuang’s parents had received a photograph of their son and a ransom demand. The image appeared to show Zhuang “was being held captive and was in danger,” according to the police.

The family transferred around $80,000 U.S. dollars to bank accounts in China to pay off the kidnappers, who repeatedly threatened their child.

While working with the FBI, Riverdale police learned that cyber kidnapping has become a recent trend, particularly with Chinese foreign exchange students.

“The kidnappers threaten the young foreign exchange students and their family, and they demand ransom,” the police statement said. “They tell the victims to isolate themselves and they monitor them through Facetime calls and or Skype.”

The cyber kidnappers convince the victim under duress to take photos of themselves that make it appear they are being held captive and send the photos to their parents. The victims comply out of fear that their families will be harmed if they don’t comply with the cyber kidnappers.


The kidnappers “continue to extort the family by using fear tactics, photos, and voice recordings of the victim leading the family to believe the kidnappers are with the victim causing them harm.”

Police believe Zhuang had been contacted and manipulated by the kidnappers prior to his disappearance on December 28.

Provo Police said the teen had attempted to go camping in Provo, Utah, on December 20, but was returned to Riverdale.

“We believed the victim was isolating himself at the direction of the cyber kidnappers in a tent,” Riverdale Police said in their statement. “Due to the cold weather in Utah at this time of year, we became additionally concerned for the victim’s safety in that he may freeze to death overnight.”

Once found, Zhuang reportedly “only wanted to speak to his family to ensure they were safe and requested a warm cheeseburger,” Riverdale police said. Both requests were accomplished before Zhuang returned to Riverdale.

Clear Thoughts (op-ed)

The “cyber kidnapping” of Chinese exchange student Kai Zhuang strikes a disturbing chord in the symphony of our modern technological era. It’s a chilling reminder of the dark side of our interconnected world and the dangers it poses, especially to the vulnerable.

Our youth, our students, are being targeted by these cyber predators. They exploit the innocence of these young minds, using fear tactics to manipulate them into a state of self-imposed captivity.

The issue isn’t just about the safety of these students; it’s about the security of our society. If we allow these cyber criminals to continue unchallenged, we’re setting a dangerous precedent. We’re saying it’s acceptable to exploit, threaten, and manipulate others for personal gain.


We need to stand firm against these cyber kidnappings. It’s our responsibility to safeguard our youth and the integrity of our nation. The future of our society depends on it.

Let us know what you think, please share your thoughts in the comments below.


1 Comment

1 Comment

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    January 7, 2024 at 7:58 am

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