Vancouver Police are investigating the third reported virtual kidnapping this year, and are again warning the public about these elaborate extortion schemes that have cost victims hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In this most recent case, a young woman in her early 20s from Mainland China, studying in Canada on a student visa, received a call from someone pretending to be a Chinese police officer. The call appeared to come from an actual Chinese police phone number – a practise common with fraudsters called “spoofing.”
The woman was convinced that she was implicated in a money laundering investigation in China and she was required to transfer Chinese funds for police and court costs. The money was paid through a Bitcoin Automated Teller Machine.
The suspects continued to threaten her with an arrest unless she paid additional money, and convinced her to provide them with compromising photos, which were sent to her family in China via “WeChat.” Ransom demands made it look as though she was kidnapped. Her family paid the ransom, thus clearing the remaining balance she was convinced she owed. The victim was physically unharmed.
“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,” says Sergeant Jason Robillard, VPD. “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.”
It is believed that the suspects are not in Canada, and it remains unclear how the victims are chosen. Investigators from the VPD’s Major Crime Section continue to work with Chinese officials and other police agencies.
The VPD has received three reports of virtual kidnappings, and two reports of attempted virtual kidnappings so far in 2018. Investigators believe that there may be more incidents that have not yet been reported, and are appealing to anyone with information about these crimes to call the VPD Major Crime Section at 604-717-3679 or Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-222-8477.