Chinese Students Forced by Scammers to Fake Own Kidnapping

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Fliers warning of phone scams are put up Wednesday on the wall of a Japanese-language school in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo.

A number of Chinese students in Japan have been extorted for money by scammers posing as Chinese authorities, and then forced to stage their own kidnapping to secure a ransom from their parents, according to investigative sources.

The scam came to light when the Metropolitan Police Department was investigating one of the false kidnapping cases. Since June, at least ¥18.5 million has been extorted, prompting the MPD to be on the alert against such scams.

In Tokyo, six Chinese women in their teens to 20s studying at universities or language schools have been victimized by this sort of scam since June, the sources said.

In each case, the students received a sudden phone call from someone claiming to be an official from a Chinese public security bureau or the Shanghai police, who surprised them by saying such things as “There is a warrant for your arrest” or “As it stands, you will be a criminal.” The students were then told to send money as a “deposit” to avoid arrest. The calls were made from China.

Some of the students paid the money, but were then told to pay more — anywhere from 600,000 yuan (about ¥12 million) to 3 million yuan. All of the students ended up telling the caller that they could not could not pay the amount sought. The scam group then demanded that the students contact their parents to tell them they had been kidnapped in Japan.

Unable to refuse, the six went to hotels in Tokyo or Chiba Prefecture where they took pictures of themselves tied up, as though by kidnappers, and then sent the photos to their families in China. The students applied paint, lipstick and other materials to their faces to make it look like they had been beaten up and were bleeding.

The families of three of the students believed the photos and paid ransoms of between ¥1 million and ¥6 million to a designated account. The MPD received a call from one concerned family and launched an investigation into the kidnapping, discovering the student at the scene.

The MPD believes that the fraud group somehow obtained the students’ phone numbers. The police is investigating the payments made by the students as fraud cases, but the ransom money paid by the families will likely not fall under MPD jurisdiction as the transactions took place in China.

The MPD is concerned that more students could fall victim to the scam and, to spread awareness, has made a flier that it has begun distributing at universities and Japanese-language schools. It has also shared information with the Chinese Embassy in Japan.

Such schemes to pose as police or government authorities are similar to other scams that have occurred in Japan. In China, the schemes are called “telecom fraud,” and President Xi Jinping issued an order in April 2021 calling for stronger countermeasures against them. Investigations have also been stepped up in the country.

“In response to tighter measures, fraud groups in China may have been shifting their targets to fellow citizens outside China,” said Wang Yunhai, a professor of criminal law at Hitotsubashi University and an expert on crime in China. “Students who have just come to Japan to study and have yet to adjust to life here are easy prey. Counseling services should be improved and students should be made more aware of the situation.”

‘Calls from Shanghai police’

“I’m so sorry I caused my parents to worry,” a Chinese student who attends a university in Tokyo told The Yomiuri Shimbun after being targeted by the scam group.

She said she received a phone call from a man claiming to be a Shanghai police officer on June 1. She was told that her cell phone was being used for money laundering. She knew nothing about this, but believed the man after receiving a photo of his “ID card,” which had a head shot on it.

On June 12, the woman was told, “A warrant has been issued for your arrest, and you’ll have to pay a security deposit to avoid arrest.” So she paid a total of ¥7 million by the end of June.

On July 26, however, the “officer” asked her to pay another ¥32 million. When she told him that she did not have that much money, she was told, “Pretend to be kidnapped and have your parents pay. If you’re arrested, you will be a disgrace to your family.”

That evening at a Tokyo hotel, she bound her legs with a rope, put fake blood under her nose and on her chest, and photographed herself with her smartphone. She sent her family in China the photo with the text: “We have kidnapped your daughter. We will release her if you pay us.”

Her parents placed an emergency call to the MPD through their relatives, and police officers rushed to the scene. The woman lied and said she had faked the kidnapping to get money for herself. “I thought I would be arrested in China if the Japanese police found out [about the allegations of money laundering],” she later said. She finally realized she was a scam victim after talking with her relatives and investigators, but her parents had already paid the ransom of about ¥1 million.

“I am ashamed that I didn’t realize it was a scam,” the woman said. “I should have consulted my parents and friends when I first received a call.”