VPD issues another warning about ‘virtual kidnapping’ scheme after third confirmed case in 2018

The Vancouver Police Department (VPD) has issued another warning about “virtual kidnapping” and extortion schemes targeting Mainland Chinese students, as it begins investigating the third confirmed case in 2018.

In the newest case, a young woman studying at a local university on a student visa received a call saying that she was “implicated in a money laundering investigation in China.” Unlike the first two cases in early May, the phone number was made to look like it came from the Chinese police instead of the Chinese Consulate.

“The schemes are all the same — they just try a couple of similar but different lines, usually pretending to be a Chinese official like a police officer or someone in the judicial system,” said Sergeant Jason Robillard.

The student was coerced into sending them money via a Bitcoin Automated Teller Machine to pay for “police and court costs.” Robillard said that because Bitcoin is “easier to hide,” it has become a common feature in fraud schemes not just limited to virtual kidnapping.

The suspects threatened her for more money as well as “compromising photos.” They then sent the photos to her family and tricked them into paying ransom demands, as they thought she has been kidnapped.

According to the VPD media release, the victim didn’t suffer physical harm.

There have also been two attempted virtual kidnappings in 2018 and 20 similar incidents in Vancouver in 2017. But Robillard said the VPD suspects there are more victims of this scheme who have not yet come forward to police, potentially due to unfamiliarity with the Canadian justice system.

“It’s a very elaborate scheme that preys on very trusting, young victims who are in a country on their own for the first time, away from their families,” said Robillard. “That might be another reason for people not to come forward — there might be some embarrassment. But even the most savvy person can get tricked.”

While the same scheme has been reported in other Canadian cities, the VPD does not believe that the suspects are located in Canada. The department also has not determined how the suspects pick the victims.

VPD’s Major Crime Section will continue collaborating with “Chinese officials and other police agencies” to solve the case.

“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,” said Robillard in the media release.

“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.”

The VPD urges anyone with information about these crimes to call the Major Crime Section at 604-717-3679 or Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-222-8477.