A 24-year-old man, who was reported as a missing person, was recently found to be a victim of a China Official Impersonation Scam (COIS).
Mother received video of him bounded
On Sep. 8, the Singapore police received a report that 24-year-old James (not his real name) had allegedly been kidnapped.
James’ mother and a friend of his, both based in China, had received a video of the victim with his hands behind his back and legs bound together from an unknown person communicating in Mandarin.
Following the report, officers from Tanglin Police Division, Criminal Investigation Department, Police Intelligence Department and Commercial Affairs Department were activated and conducted extensive investigations to locate him.
James was eventually found safe and sound on Sep. 9, after a 16-hour search, the police told the media.
How the scam unfolded
Speaking to the media, James said he had received an unsolicited call, purportedly from a Ministry of Health (MOH) officer, in mid-August 2022.
The scammer first alleged that James had a parcel detained at the customs which contained illegal Covid-19 medicine. James was then routed to another scammer masquerading as “the China Police” for investigations.
The "China Police" purportedly instructed James to isolate himself and cease communication with others to facilitate their investigations.
At one point, the "China Police" also informed the 24-year-old that he was found to be part of an organ-trafficking syndicate.
In a bid to clear his name and help the "China Police" nab the scammers, James agreed to the request from the "China Police" to take a video of himself with his hands behind his back and legs bound, to appear as if he had been captured.
James was told that the video taken on Sep. 1 would be used for their investigations to lure and arrest the syndicate members.
The next day, the "China Police" informed him that his video had successfully helped them arrest some members.
Speaking to Mothership, he admitted that he was pretty pleased that he had helped the "police" catch criminals at that point in time.
However, that wasn't the end.
The "China Police" later told James that he was suspected to have leaked information about this operation.
To clear his name, he followed instructions to leave his home and walk around shopping malls in Singapore for hours over a few days.
While James was made to think he was helping the police in China to catch criminals in Singapore, the "China Police" sent threats alongside the video to his friend and mother without his knowledge.
This led to James' family reporting his disappearance to the Singapore police.
After a 16-hour search, the Singapore police found James at the shopping mall and told him that he got scammed.
James told Mothership that the Singapore police informed his family that cases of kidnap are rare in Singapore, but scams are prevalent. This allayed their fears over his disappearance.
No one suffered any monetary losses as a result.
After he reconnected with his mother, he realised additional edits had been made to the video of him tied up before it was sent to his mother.
Why did the 24-year-old fall for the scam?
The 24-year-old shared with Mothership that the scammers did not ask him for money.
He was made to report his whereabouts every day.
In addition, they also obtained his personal details, such as his passport photo.
When asked why he did not find it weird that he was contacted by the "China Police" via Telegram, James was told that Telegram was a more secure communication option.
As such, while James was doubtful at one point, he eventually got taken in by the scam.
Not the only case
Another "missing" 16-year-old youth was found to be a scam victim on Sep. 12.
Similarly, the victim’s mother, based in China, received a video of the victim with his hands bound on a sofa.
Following the report, officers from Tanglin Police Division, Criminal Investigation Department, Police Intelligence Department and Commercial Affairs Department were activated and conducted extensive investigations to locate the victim.
He was eventually found safe and sound on Sep. 13.
Preliminary investigations revealed that the victim had received an unsolicited call, purportedly from a MOH officer.
The scammer alleged that the victim was spreading rumours about Covid-19 in China and was allegedly involved in smuggling contraband cigarettes from China to Singapore. The victim was then routed to another scammer masquerading as “the China Police” for investigations.
The scammer further alleged that the victim’s particulars might have been misused by his mother in China. As such, they would require the victim’s cooperation to stage a hostage situation to convince his mother to tell the truth.
The scammer purportedly instructed the victim to isolate himself and take a video of himself. He was then told to cease communication and remain in a house arranged by the scammer.
Without the victim’s knowledge, the scammers sent the video to the victim’s mother to demand a ransom of RMB1 million (S$200,063) for his release.
The Singapore police were able to intervene and trace down the victim. Neither the victim nor the mother suffered any monetary losses.
Police investigations into both cases are ongoing.
China police no jurisdiction to conduct operations in Singapore
From January to August 2022, a total of 476 COIS cases were reported, with losses amounting to at least S$57.3 million, the Singapore police said.
The China Police, Interpol and other overseas law enforcement agencies (LEAs) have no jurisdiction to conduct operations in Singapore, arrest anyone or ask members of the public to help with any form of investigation without the approval of the Singapore government.
The police take a serious view against any person involved in scamming people, whether knowingly or unwittingly, and they will be dealt with in accordance with the law.
To seek scam-related advice, members of the public may call the Anti-Scam Hotline at 1800-722-6688 or go to www.scamalert.sg
Top image via Canva and via Christian Wiediger/Unsplash, Wikimedia Commons