Calgary, AB,

CPS investigating virtual kidnappings targeting international students

The Calgary Police Service is warning international students studying in Calgary about an elaborate virtual kidnapping scam targeting students and their families.

The Service has seen two confirmed cases of this scam, which has been previously reported in British Columbia, since the beginning of May. Due to the nature of the scam and the significant number of police resources that become involved in responding to a kidnapping incident, CPS would like to make Calgarians aware of this.

On Sunday, May 5, 2018, a family living in China, who had a son studying abroad in Calgary, contacted their local police agency to report a ransom request they received through their son’s social media account. The ransom request alleged that the family’s son was being held against his will in Calgary and threatened that he would be harmed if they did not provide an undisclosed amount of ransom money.

Chinese authorities contacted CPS, through the Chinese Consulate and RCMP, with this information and an investigation was initiated. Detectives were able to quickly track down the family’s son who had also been contacted by the scammers and had been convinced to hide out at a Calgary hotel.

As with other similar virtual kidnapping cases in other jurisdictions, the offenders used sophisticated fraud techniques to pose as law enforcement officials and threaten the victim with arrest or deportation to gain compliance. Offenders directed the victim to get rid of all communication devices and credit cards, which could be traced, making it impossible for family members to reach them. At the same time, scammers were contacting the victim’s family to make ransom demands.

CPS has been in touch with the city’s post-secondary institutions, including campus security at the University of Calgary.

“The Calgary Police Service takes virtual kidnappings extremely seriously,” says Acting Duty Inspector Jeff Bell of the CPS Real Time Operations Centre. “Despite the potential financial loss suffered by the victim, there is a significant amount of police resources from multiple different agencies that goes into each one of these files to ensure the victims are safe.”

Scammers are known to send videos of the kidnapping victim appearing under duress to their family members in an effort to provide more legitimacy to the ransom demand. These videos are often edited from videos that the scammers have taken while posing as government officials.

Scammers use aggressive techniques when dealing with victims and their families and red flags include:

  • Forcing the victim to stay on the phone for hours at a time and making sure victims don’t tell anyone who they are supposedly speaking with.
  • Spoofing phone numbers to look like they are coming from government, law enforcement or embassy officials.
  • Convincing victims to leave work or school immediately without an explanation, make large cash withdrawals, and pack suitcases and leave their residence immediately.

International students and family and friends of people studying abroad in Calgary should be aware of the above red flags. Tips to prevent being victimized by this scam include:

  • Verifying any requests from the government or other officials directly, by calling a number that you know to be true. Don’t use contact information given to you by a potential scammer. If you are concerned, reach out to police or consulate officials.
  • The government will not force you to stay on the phone or prohibit you from seeking legal advice or contacting your friends and family.
  • Do not feel pressure to respond until you have made sure the communication from your family member or the government is legitimate.
  • If you receive communications that your loved one has been kidnapped, contact your local police immediately. Do not transfer money.

The Calgary Police Service would like to thank the RCMP, University of Calgary and Consulate-General of the People’s Republic of China for their assistance in investigating these incidents.

Case # 18194967