Police and consular officials are warning of a series of scams targeting Chinese nationals living in Canada, in which they are told they or their families are in trouble with the Chinese government or even that relatives have been kidnapped.
The RCMP, China's Canadian embassy and the Chinese consulate-general in Vancouver have all issued warnings in recent months after victims were asked for personal information, including banking information.
In some instances, callers claiming to be from China's embassy or the consulate-general in several major Canadian cities told victims their personal information had been compromised and warned they were suspects in extortion or money laundering investigations.
The RCMP in B.C. issued a warning in July that six people had received calls saying that their relatives in China would be kidnapped if they didn't co-operate. At the same time, the suspects would also contact relatives in China, telling them their family member in Canada was being held against their will and demanding ransom money. The Mounties say there have been at least three more cases since the summer.
"Three incidents were reported to police where the victims reported receiving a phone call and complied with demands made by the suspects," Staff-Sergeant Annie Linteau said in an e-mail.
"Anyone who receives [such phone calls] should hang up the phone immediately and not comply with any demands," she said.
The main targets have been female Chinese nationals, especially students.
The Globe and Mail reached several people who said they received phone calls earlier this year from people claiming to be with the Chinese consulate-general in Vancouver.
Junying Gao said she was told she was a suspect in a money-laundering investigation and that her personal information was probably stolen.
Ms. Gao was directed to contact what the caller claimed was an Interpol office in Ottawa for help.
"I almost believed it," she said. "When I first heard it, I was scared."
Wenny Qiu she received a similar call.
"I googled the number and it was indeed the number of Chinese consulate-general in Vancouver … and they sent me this website of the [liaison office in Ottawa], which shows the staff's names and [the office's] number," she said.
The Chinese embassy and the consulate-general in Vancouver declined to comment on the incidents, but both have sent out warnings.
The embassy said in a notice issued in August that the Interpol office the scammers referred to doesn't exist. The Chinese consulate-general in Vancouver said that if Chinese citizens are involved in any crimes in China, the Chinese diplomatic missions will mail legal documents to them directly, and they never verify personal information through phone calls.
Rob Gordon, criminology professor at Simon Fraser University, said the suspects are targeting victims who are vulnerable and gullible.
"They don't have experience of this kind of activity. They might respond favourably to a trick," Prof. Gordon noted.
He also added that such cyberschemes are difficult to track. He said the best way to tackle the issue is by educating the public.
"[Such schemes are] virtually unstoppable," Prof. Gordon said. "These calls or these computer messages are probably coming through several different computers and networks, you just cannot track them."
Liza Li, who was told by a suspect that there was an issue with her visa and was asked for personal information, said she was concerned about how the callers found her number.
Prof. Gordon said the suspects may have access to a mail list of Chinese immigrants that has been compromised.
"That's somebody with access to immigration records, probably in China, who has created a program in a computer that automatically dialled numbers until somebody answers, which is a common way of doing that," he said.
Staff-Sergeant Linteau said investigators are looking into how victims are being chosen, but she noted the suspects could be selecting the numbers to call randomly.