Virtual-kidnapping extortion scheme, targeting Chinese victims, resurfaces in Vancouver

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      Police are warning that a virtual-kidnapping scam that has taken place in the Lower Mainland in recent years, primarily targeting Chinese people, has reappeared in Metro Vancouver.

      The Vancouver Police Department (VPD) stated in a news release issued today (October 24) that on the evening of October 23, foreign fraudsters tried to extort a 27-year-old Vancouver man of thousands of dollars.

      The VPD is investigating the “elaborate” extortion scheme, which police were able to thwart once they were notified about it.

      VPD spokesperson Sgt. Aaron Roed explained that in these extortion attempts, victims receive phone calls from scammers who claim that there is a warrant for their arrest in China or that Chinese police need help with an investigation.

      The callers then instruct the victim to go into hiding and make fake videos that make them appear as if they’ve been kidnapped. These videos are then sent to the victim’s family and friends, asking for money to pay for their release.

      Those targeted tend to be women in their early 20s from Mainland China who are in studying in Canada on a student visa.

      The VPD stated that many of these incidents remain unreported, with some only involving police after concerned relatives call them.

      Sgt. Roed is issuing a reminder that police from outside Canada will never arrest a person in this country, and any contact with international authorities should be done through local police.

      He added that police will never ask for photos or videos of someone pretending to be a victim of crime.

      Last year, at least five virtual-kidnapping cases occurred in Vancouver. In 2017, up to 20 cases were reported.

      In some of those previous cases, the phone number displayed on caller ID falsely appeared to be from an actual Chinese police phone number, through a fraud technique called spoofing. In other cases, the caller appeared to be calling from the Chinese Consulate.

      Anyone receiving such phone calls or from someone claiming to represent a foreign police agency should call 911 immediately.

      Anyone with information about virtual kidnappings is asked to call the VPD at 604-717-3679 or Crime Stoppers 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. 

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook