Durham Regional Police Service is warning the public about a kidnapping scam after the parents and friends of an 18-year-old student were defrauded of more than $200,000.

The scam, known as “virtual kidnapping,” has recently surfaced in Durham Region but has been going on for many years in North America. Virtual kidnapping is an extortion scheme designed to leverage ransom money from the victim’s parents, spouse or friends.

The 18-year-old female victim, a student in Montreal, was approached and told she had been implicated in a crime ring. She would be arrested and incarcerated if she didn’t follow instructions. She was told to take photos of herself tied up and in distress, making it appear that she had been kidnapped. The scammers received these images from her and sent them to her mother in Oshawa, demanding ransom money through the WeChat app.

The money was transferred to an unknown bank account in an attempt to free the 18-year-old. The mother contacted the police on May 16 to report the kidnapping and locate her daughter. Montreal Police located her, unharmed, in a hotel room. She had been manipulated into sending the staged photos under threat of arrest if she didn’t comply and was told to stay in the hotel room. She was reunited with her family.

There have been several similar incidents throughout the GTA and police are warning the community not to engage in any communication with these scammers. If you have been approached to participate, contact your local police service with all relevant information.

Safeguards to prevent being a victim of this type of fraud are outlined in a FBI link.

For more information on scams or to report a scam attempt, visit the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre here or call 1-888-495-8501.

To report a fraud in Durham Region contact police at 1-888-579-1520.