Virtual kidnapping scam hits Peterborough area

Two postsecondary students from China targetted in sophisticated scheme

Virtual kidnapping scam

The Peterborough Police Service is warning the community about the virtual kidnapping scam after two students from China attending postsecondary institutions in Peterborough were recently targetted.

In the first incident, approximately $18,000 Canadian was extorted by the scammers. No money was handed over in the second incident.

Virtual kidnapping is an extortion scheme that tricks victims into paying a ransom to free a loved one they believe is being threatened with violence or death. Unlike traditional abductions, virtual kidnappers have not actually kidnapped anyone. Instead, through deceptions and threats, they coerce victims to pay a quick ransom before the scheme falls apart.

The scam was first identified in the United States by the FBI in 2013, with virtual kidnapping calls originating from Mexican prisons targetting Spanish-speaking residents of the Los Angeles area. Since then, the scam has spread internationally, with several cases of foreign students in British Columbia being targetted by Chinese scammers.

“This scam is not unique to Peterborough and has been circulating for some time in other parts of the country,” explains Staff Sergeant Daniel MacLean of the Criminal Investigations Unit. “This scam is extremely elaborate and sophisticated.”

Here’s how the scam works:

  • The victim gets a phone call, often from a number that appears to be coming from the Chinese Consulate.
  • They are told either that there is a Chinese warrant for their arrest, or that the Chinese police need their help with an investigation.
  • The scammers then convince the target to make a phony video in which they say they’ve been kidnapped or are the victim of a crime.
  • These videos are sent to the victim’s family members, who are extorted for money by paying the ransom.
  • The victim in Canada is convinced by the scammers to go to a motel and hide from local police.

“The Peterborough Police Service is working closely with both postsecondary institutions in Peterborough to ensure students are well informed and well educated regarding scams and frauds and that they feel safe,” MacLean says.

“Through pro-active crime prevention education and messaging, we hope to prevent any further victimization of our international student population.”

Peterborough police urge international students and the community at large to pay close attention to the following tips:

  • Do not trust your call display. It may say “Police”. In reality, it may be an actual scammer. It does not matter what the caller ID says, you cannot trust it.
  • If you get an urgent call from someone stating they represent the Chinese Consulate, a company or a government agency seeking personal information, hang up. Call the phone number on your account statement, in the phone book or on the company or government agency’s website to verify the authenticity of the request.
  • Never give out personal information in response to unexpected calls. This includes account numbers, social insurance number (SIN), information relating to your family members, your passport information, passwords or any information about your identity.
  • If someone on the phone tells you to keep a secret, alarm bells should be going off.
  • When in doubt, hang up. Call a trusted family member, friend, staff at your school, or the police.
  • As a reminder, the Chinese police will not arrest you in Canada, or ask you to take photos or videos of yourselves pretending to be the victim of crime.
  • Stop, pause, and think before reacting to any suspicious phone call or communication you receive.

If you receive a scam call please report it immediately to the Peterborough Police Service at 705-876-1122 or via the non-emergency crime online reporting system at, Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS or, or the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre toll free at 1-888-495-8501.

More information is also available from the Consulate-General of The People’s Republic of China in Toronto at