Chinese students in Canada are being targeted by “virtual kidnappers.”
Chinese students in Canada are being conned into filming fake hostage videos
Phone scammers have used an elaborate scheme that tricks their targets into filming “hostage videos” in which they pretend to be victims of kidnapping, Vancouver police said Wednesday.
The videos are then used to extract ransoms from their family members in China.
This conmen’s threats are somewhat believable: police in the victims’ home country have wide-ranging powers of detention, and extralegal detention is not uncommon.
The police said that two separate ransoms had been paid over the weekend, and that there were 20 reports of similar cases last year.
These scams typically involve convincing targets to hand over money themselves to evade or resolve a non-existent criminal investigation in China.
But in recent cases, terrified and confused young students were persuaded to film their own fake hostage videos, destroy their mobile phones and go into hiding over the course of several days, the police said.
Sergeant Jason Robillard of the Vancouver Police said the extortion scheme usually began with the scammer calling a young Chinese student claiming to be from the Chinese Consulate.
The phone scam, or variations of it, does not appear to be restricted to Vancouver. Last August, the Chinese consulate in New York warned on its website about fraudsters claiming to be calling from the consulate.
In the Canadian cases, the schemers somehow managed to have the actual consulate number appear on caller ID, Robillard said.
“They are advised there is a warrant for their arrest in China, or that the Chinese police need their help with an investigation. The suspects eventually convince the victim to make fake videos indicating they have been kidnapped or are the victim of another crime,” he said.
The victims were told that the videos were some kind of re-enactment needed by Chinese police, and that if they did not cooperate, they or their relatives would be arrested. Robillard did not elaborate on precisely what they were told.
The victims were then told to go to a motel or a short-term rented property to hide from Canadian police. With the targets out of touch with their families, the videos were sent to their relatives, who were persuaded to pay a ransom.
“They convince [the students] over days of speaking to them to destroy their phone, get a new phone, talk in code,” Robillard said.
“They really believe they are working with Chinese police … and that they may be arrested, or their parents arrested, if they do not cooperate.”
Only one of the 20 cases in 2017 went as far as completing fake kidnapping videos like those involved in the recent cases, Robillard said.
He said victims were specifically targeted as people who would believe they were at risk of arrest by Chinese authorities, but did not elaborate.
More than 132,000 Chinese students studied in Canada in 2016, representing the largest group of international students in the country.
“We want to remind all foreign students that the Chinese police will not arrest you in Canada, or ask you to take photos or videos of yourselves pretending to be the victim of crime,” said Robillard.
The Vancouver police’s Major Crime Section is investigating. The suspects are not believed to be in Canada.