Vancouver police have issued a warning about the resurgence of the so-called ‘virtual kidnapping‘ scheme.
It comes after a pair of students from China were targeted by scammers over the weekend.
The scam works like this: the target gets a phone call, often from a number that has been masked to appear as if it’s coming from the Chinese Consulate.
They are told either that there is a Chinese warrant for their arrest, or that Chinese police need their help with an investigation.
Then, according to police, the scammers convince the target to make a phony video in which they say they’ve been kidnapped or are the victim of a crime.
Those videos are sent to the victim’s family members, who are extorted for money, according to police. Meanwhile, the victim in Canada is convinced to go to a motel and hide from local police.
Investigators say the victims are typically women in their early 20’s who are in Canada from mainland China on a student visa.
“We want to remind all foreign students that the Chinese police will not arrest you in Canada, or ask you to take photos or videos of yourselves pretending to be the victim of crime,” said Vancouver police Sgt. Jason Robillard in a media release.
Vancouver police say they recorded at least 20 similar extortion attempts last year, and at least two in 2018.
In July and October of last year the B.C. RCMP issued its own ‘virtual kidnapping’ warnings, in both cases describing a scheme with essentially the same mechanics.
The Chinese Consulate General also issued a statement last July warning students about the scam:
“Should any Chinese citizens be involved in any legal cases in China, the relevant legal documents will be mailed to them directly from Chinese diplomatic missions. No phone call will be made to verify any personal information, especially the personal banking information.”
The Vancouver Police Department (VPD) says its Major Crimes Section is working the case, but that the scammers appear to be operating from outside of Canada.
It says it is working with Chinese officials, and asks anyone with information about the scam to contact the VPD at 604-717-3679 or Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-222-8477.