Victoria police warn of 'virtual kidnappers' targeting Chinese students in Canada

Victoria police are warning of an elaborate extortion scheme known as “virtual kidnapping” that targets members of the Chinese community.

Police say they have investigated several such cases where money is demanded from families, and in at least one case the criminals managed to get a substantial amount of cash.

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The scam often targets people from mainland China in their 20s living in Canada on a student visa. The victim will receive a recorded call in Mandarin or Cantonese with a request for a return call to a telephone number that appears to be that of a Chinese official, such as the consulate.

If the call is returned, a person claims that Chinese police are looking to arrest the victim, or that police need their help with an investigation.

The person is then told to record and send along videos or pictures of themselves pretending to be the victim of a crime. These videos or images are used to extort money from the person’s family in China. Frequently the fraudsters send the victim to a motel or short-term rental to “hide out” from Canadian police.

If you believe you are being targeted by a virtual kidnapper, contact the local police department, and talk with friends, family, or school officials in Canada, police advise.

Police say potential victims should know:

• Neither Chinese police nor the Chinese government can arrest you in Canada.

• Any police-related contact from the Chinese government will be made through Canadian police.

• Neither Canadian nor Chinese authorities will ever ask you to destroy a phone or take photos or videos of yourself pretending to be the crime victim.

• If you are contacted by someone claiming to be Chinese police and they ask you to assist an investigation or pretend to be the victim of a crime, call 250-995-7654 or the local Canadian police force for help (even if the caller has instructed against it).

• If you feel unsafe or threatened, call 911.

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