'Kidnapped' man, 21, turns out to be scam victim instructed to isolate in S'pore hotel room

A screenshot of the scammer demanding for money from the victim's family (left) and false credentials of China officials sent by the scammers. PHOTO: SINGAPORE POLICE FORCE

SINGAPORE - The case of a man, 21, believed to have been kidnapped took an unexpected turn when the police found that the victim and his family had transferred more than $560,000 to scammers impersonating officials from China.

Acting on a scammer's instructions, the victim had isolated himself in a hotel room in Singapore and recorded videos of himself with his hands placed behind his back to convince his family in China that he was in trouble, the police said in a statement on Monday (Jan 31).

The Straits Times understands that he complied because he was threatened by the scammers.

Last Friday, the police received a report at about 1.30am that a 21-year-old man had allegedly been kidnapped.

Based on the report, the police learnt that his family had been receiving videos of the victim and ransom demands from an unknown person with a Fujian accent who was believed to be in China.

Officers from the Tanglin Police Division, Criminal Investigation Department and Commercial Affairs Department were activated and conducted an extensive search operation and investigations to locate the victim.

He was eventually found to be safe in a hotel on the same day at about 9.30am, about eight hours after the police report was made.

Preliminary investigations revealed the victim had received an unsolicited call purportedly from an officer from the Ministry of Health in November last year.

The victim's call was later redirected to other scammers who claimed to be police officers from China, the police said.

The scammers allegedly claimed that the victim was involved in money laundering offences in China and sought his cooperation to help their investigations.

Between Dec 22 last year and last Monday, the victim, who was also allegedly threatened, and his parent transferred more than $560,000 to bank accounts provided by the scammer on several occasions.

In the statement, the police reminded the public that China Police, Interpol and other overseas law enforcement agencies have no jurisdiction to conduct operations in Singapore, arrest anyone or ask members of the public to help with any form of investigations without the approval of the Singapore Government.

False credentials of China officials sent by the scammers to the victim's phone. PHOTO: SINGAPORE POLICE FORCE

The latest incident follows a string of cases over the past three years involving parents being duped by people impersonating China officials claiming their children had been kidnapped.

Since 2019, China officials impersonation scams have ranked among the top five scams here, with a total of $49.5 million lost in the first half of 2021.

In November 2021, an 18-year-old man was found to be safe at a rented flat a day after the police received a report that he had been kidnapped.

Acting on the scammer’s instructions, the victim recorded a video of himself with his hands placed behind his back to help in purported investigations.

Without his knowledge, the scammer sent a video to his parents in China and demanded a ransom to be paid for his release.

In May 2021, a 21-year-old student posed topless, blindfolded and gagged while on a video call because he believed he was taking an X-ray via the phone as instructed by a scammer impersonating a police officer from China.

The scammer then sent the recording to his parents in China to demand a ransom of 6 million yuan (S$1.2 million).

In May 2019, a 15-year-old student was scammed into staging his own kidnapping, leading to his parents transferring 20,000 yuan (S$4,045) to a bank account in China.

In 2020, scammers pocketed a record high of $268.4 million in total, which was nearly triple the $89.7 million stolen in 2016.

The police warned the public to take the following precautions when they receive unsolicited calls from unknown parties, especially those with the "+" prefix that indicates they originate from overseas callers.

No government agency will instruct payment through undocumented media like a telephone call or a social messaging platform such as WeChat, or ask for personal banking information such as Internet banking passwords, the police said.

Foreign residents who receive calls from people claiming to be police officers or government officials from their home country should call their embassy or High Commission to verify the claims of the callers, they added.

The police warned against giving personal information, bank details and one-time passwords to anyone. The public should also avoid making any fund transfer if the caller is of dubious identity.

They are also advised to call a trusted friend or talk to a relative before they act, as they may be overwhelmed by emotion and make wrong judgments.

Those with information on such scams can call the police hotline on 1800-255-0000 or dial 999.

For scam-related advice, the public can call the anti-scam helpline on 1800-722-6688 or visit this website.

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