The Vancouver Police Department (VPD) is investigating the city’s third “virtual kidnapping” case of the year.
The scheme has predominantly involved scammers targeting young women from mainland China.
Scammers masquerading as Chinese police or government officials will phone the target and threaten them over fabricated crimes, then use information extorted from the victim to convince relatives at home in China that the victim has been kidnapped.
In the most recent case, police said the target was a young woman in her early 20s from mainland China who is in Canada on a student visa.
The VPD said the woman was targeted by someone claiming to be a Chinese police officer and calling from a number that was faked to appear as if it was coming from a real Chinese police department.
The scammers convinced the woman she had been implicated in a money laundering investigation, and would have to send Bitcoin back to China to cover police and court costs, according to the VPD.
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The scammers then further threatened her with arrest, coercing her into sending them compromising photos; those photos were then sent to the victim’s family in China in order to make it appear as if she had been kidnapped, according to police.
Investigators say the family ended up paying a ransom. Police believe the scammers are not operating from within Canada.
“These deplorable crimes are having a huge impact on these young, trusting students, and their families. We need to make sure people are aware to prevent them from continuing,” said Sgt. Jason Robillard in a media release.
“We want to remind all foreign students that the Chinese police will not arrest you in Canada, and if you are confused or scared, please reach out to your local police department in Canada. We are here to help.”
Police last warned about the virtual kidnapping scam back in May, after two other Chinese women were targeted.
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The VPD says it recorded at least 20 similar extortion attempts last year, and the BC RCMP has issued its own warnings over the scam.
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.”
Police in Alberta, Winnipeg, Halifax and Peterborough have also reported incidences of the same scam.
Anyone with information about the scam to contact the VPD at 604-717-3679 or Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-222-8477.