CALGARY: A virtual abduction scam that targets international students and their families has surfaced in Calgary.
Police are warning post-secondary institutions as well as the public in an effort to prevent anyone from getting taken in.
Investigators say a family in China received a ransom request through a son’s social media account saying he was being held against his will and would be harmed if they didn’t pay.
The family alerted police in China and authorities contacted the Calgary Police Service through the Chinese consulate and the RCMP.
City officers tracked down the son, who they say had also been contacted by the scammers and told to hunker down at a hotel.
Police say it’s the second confirmed case in Calgary since the beginning of May and there have been similar cases reported in B.C.
“It’s very traumatic, obviously, for both the family and for the person involved,” acting duty Insp. Jeff Bell said Friday.
“Ironically the victim(s) … don’t know that they’re actively participating in their own kidnapping. They’re under a form of mental duress and psychological persuasion.”
Bell said that makes it tougher for the police and puts a heavy strain on families.
“The duress it puts the family in is unbelievable,” he said. “They’re willing to pay large, considerable amounts of money to get their children back.”
Investigators say the offenders pose as law enforcement officers and threaten to arrest or deport a student. The victim is told to toss communication devices and credit cards so they can’t be traced. That makes it hard for family to get in touch.
That’s when the online ransom demand is made. Sometimes families are sent videos of their loved ones under duress to make the scam seem more authentic. Police said the videos are edited from other videos that are recorded while the scammers are posing as government officials.
Investigators said the scammers use sophisticated fraud techniques and are often aggressive while interacting with the victims and their families.
Bell said police have issued the warning to make people aware of what’s happening.
“Use some critical thought,” he said.