Investigators with the Victoria Police Department are warning the public – particularly members of the Chinese community – about reports of an extortion scheme known as a “virtual kidnapping.”
Police said reports of “virtual kidnappings” have been increasing lately and officers are warning the public to be aware of these extortion attempts.
In a virtual kidnapping, police said perpetrators often target people from mainland China who are in their early 20s and are in Canada studying on a student visa.
A phone call with a recorded message in Mandarin or Cantonese is sent to the victim, often from a number that appears to be from the Chinese consulate or another Chinese authority. If the victim responds, they are informed there is either a warrant for their arrest in China or that the Chinese police need their help with an investigation.
Police said the suspects eventually convince the victim to make fake videos that say they have been kidnapped or are the victim of a crime.
“These videos are then sent to the victim’s family members, who are, in turn, extorted for money,” VicPD noted. “The victim is then told to go to a motel or a short-term rental to hide from Canadian police.”
VicPD’s major crime unit detectives have investigated several virtual kidnapping files over the last year. The files carry a cost of police resources as well as an emotional cost to the victims and their families, police said.
“The perpetrators’ ultimate goals are financial, and in at least one file, significant amounts of money have been extorted from worried families.”
If contacted by someone claiming to be from the Chinese consulate or Chinese police who ask for participation in a similar occurrence, police advise calling the non-emergency line at 250-995-7654 or calling local police, even if told not to.
VicPD also advises speaking with students and visitors in the community who are from mainland China about these extortions and encouraging them to contact police if they feel unsafe or are contacted by people claiming to be Chinese authorities who are asking them to pretend to be the victim of a crime.
Police have also noted that the Chinese police or government cannot arrest individuals in Canada. All policing-related contact from the Chinese government is through local police as well. In addition to that, police said Canadian or Chinese authorities will not ask individuals to destroy a phone or take photos or videos pretending to be a victim of a crime.