Warning issued after third case of 'virtual kidnapping' this year
Police are investigating the third "virtual kidnapping" reported in Vancouver this year, and warning the public to be wary of similar scams.
Officers said Wednesday that the most recent case involves a young woman in her early 20s from Mainland China. The woman is in Canada on a student visa.
She received a call that appeared to come from a phone number associated to an actual Chinese police department, Sgt. Jason Robillard. Scammers used a technique known as "spoofing," a common practice of altering caller ID to disguise where the call is really coming from.
The victim was convinced that she was implicated in a money laundering investigation in China, Robillard said, and that she would have to transfer money to cover police and court costs.
She sent the money, paid through a Bitcoin ATM.
Police said the scammers continued to threaten her with an arrest until she sent more money. She was also convinced to send them "compromising photos," police said, which were then sent to her family members in China through the messaging app WeChat.
Along with the photos, scammers sent messages to the family demanding a ransom, making it look like the woman had been kidnapped. The ransom was paid, and the woman was told that the funds cleared the balance she owed.
She was physically unharmed during the incident.
Vancouver police provided details of the fake kidnapping about a month after issuing a similar warning.
The latest case is the third reported in Vancouver in the first half of 2018. Police said they know of two other attempts, but they believe there are more that haven't been reported.
The strange extortion scam appears to be targeting young Chinese women who are usually in Canada on a student visa. The scammers are not believed to be located in Canada, and it remains unclear how their victims are chosen, police said.
Calls sometimes appear to come from police, but have also been spoofed so callers seem to be reaching out from the Chinese consulate. In other instances, victims have been convinced to produce fake videos suggesting they've been kidnapped or are the victim of another crime. Women have been told to go to a motel or short-term rental to hide out as the scammers reach out to their families.
"These deplorable crimes are having a huge impact on these young, trusting students, and their families," Robillard said in a statement Wednesday.
"We need to make sure people are aware to prevent them from continuing."
The sergeant reminded all foreign students that Chinese police will not arrest them in Canada, and asked anyone who is confused or scared to contact their local Canadian police department.
"We are here to help," he said.
Anyone with information about the ongoing scam is asked to contact the VPD's Major Crime Section at 604-717-3679, or to call Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS).