Another virtual-kidnapping scheme has targeted a foreign student in Vancouver, marking it as the third this year.
The Vancouver Police Department (VPD) announced today (June 13) that a 20-something woman from Mainland China with a student visa in Canada received a phone call from someone who purported to be a Chinese police officer. The displayed phone number appeared to be from an actual Chinese police phone number, using a fraud technique known as spoofing.
The caller convinced the woman that she was under investigation for money laundering in China and was required to transfer Chinese funds for police and court expenses. The victim paid the money through a bitcoin automated teller machine, and she was threatened with an arrest unless she paid even more money.
She was also convinced to send compromising photos, which were subsequently sent to her family in China on the Chinese social-media app WeChat along with ransom demands, making it appear as if she were kidnapped.
Her family paid the ransom, and the victim was unharmed.
The VPD sought to dispel any fears victims may have that might prevent them from contacting police.
“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," VPD Sgt. Jason Robillard stated in a news release.
The VPD major crime section is working with Chinese officials and other police agencies to investigate these cases.
The VPD stated that thus far this year they have received three reports of virtual kidnappings, and two reports of attempted virtual kidnappings.
In May, two foreign students in Vancouver were targeted and 20 cases were reported in 2017.
In some cases, according to the VPD, the caller appears to be from the Chinese Consulate and convinces the victim that they are facing arrest in China or that Chinese police need assistance with an investigation. The victim may be convinced to destroy their phone, communicate in codes, avoid social-media posts, hide at a hotel or short-term rental, and avoid local police.
Some victims have been convinced to make a video that makes it appear as if they have been kidnapped, which is then forwarded on to their family for extortion purposes.
Young female international students in their early 20s from Mainland China have been primarily targeted.
This extortion scheme was also reported in May in Victoria, and has also occured in Toronto, Winnipeg, and other Canadian cities.
As investigators believe there may be other cases that have not yet been reported, anyone with information about these crimes is asked to call VPD major crime section at 604-717-3679 or, for anonymous calls, Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.
International student safety tips are available in Chinese at the VPD website. More information about the VPD is available in Chinese at the website as well. Additional Chinese-language resources include the Chinese Community Policing Centre, which works with the VPD, based in Vancouver's Chinatown.