British Columbia

Virtual kidnapping extortion scam targets 2 foreign students in Vancouver

Vancouver police are warning foreign students to be wary of an elaborate scheme they've dubbed virtual kidnapping.

'The family receives this video of their loved one being tied up'

Vancouver police are warning foreign students not to fall for an elaborate virtual kidnapping scheme. A caller convinces students to send a video home making it look like they've been kidnapped.

Vancouver police are warning foreign students to be wary of an elaborate scheme they've dubbed virtual kidnapping.

It's an extortion scheme that keeps popping up all over Canada, most recently in Winnipeg but also in Toronto and other places.

Two foreign students were targeted successfully this weekend by what police believe are out-of-country scam artists who convince targets to send a video back to their family that's then used to extort money from the horrified relatives.

Sgt. Jason Robillard said two young women in their 20s were caught up in the "elaborate" scheme over the past week.

"The family receives this video of their loved one being tied up and potentially kidnapped, and they feel it's true and they pay a ransom," said Robillard.

First the victim gets a call from somebody claiming to be, or appearing to be, from the Chinese Consulate, he said.

Then, over a period of time, the suspect works the victim, somehow convincing them that they are facing arrest in China or they're needed to help police with an investigation.

Significant sums stolen

He said victims were convinced to destroy their phone, communicate only in codes, avoid social media posts and hide at a local hotel.

They're threatened and instructed to avoid local police, Robillard added.

They were eventually manipulated into creating a video that makes it appear like they've been kidnapped.

That video is then sent to their family and used to extort large sums of money.

Robillard couldn't be specific about amounts but said significant sums were lost.

There were 20 such crimes reported in 2017 in Vancouver alone. And in 2018, another two were recently reported.

Of those, police said, three ended with money wired to the suspects.

'The family receives this video of their loved one being tied up and potentially kidnapped and they feel it's true and their pay a ransom when they are not being kidnapped,' Vancouver police Sgt. Jason Robillard said at a news conference Wednesday. (Christer Waara/CBC)

About the Author

Yvette Brend is a CBC Vancouver journalist. Yvette.Brend@CBC.ca @ybrend