The Winnipeg Police Service says it has received local reports of a so-called "virtual kidnapping" extortion scheme, and is warning the public about the fraud.
Virtual kidnappers tell their would-be victims that they've kidnapped a loved one, and demand a ransom. In reality, no one has been kidnapped, but victims pay quickly out of fear.
Winnipeg police say they're aware of two such incidents in Winnipeg, one on January 9 and the other on January 10.
"In both cases the victim wired funds to an out-of-country area code," said a police press release. "The amounts sent were less than $5,000."
Winnipeg Police Service spokesperson Const. Rob Carver said there were some clear similiarities between the two cases. Both, he said, involved "drugs and Mexico," and the perpetrators demanded similar amounts of money.
Fraudsters don't even need to know the name of victim's loved one to pull off the scheme, Const. Carver said. They can simply cold-call victims and play a recording of someone screaming in the background.
"And mom or dad says, 'Oh my God, Tanya, is that you?' and (the fraudsters) go, 'We have Tanya," he explained.
"Well, you just divulged the name, and now they've got enough information... they know your area code, they know you live in Winnipeg, they know that you've got a kid named Tanya who's connected to you, and now they've got you on the hook."
By the time the fake ransom has been paid and local police receive a report, Const. Carver added, there's nothing that can be done.
"Local, municipal police services in Canada cannot investigate international fraud," he said. "We simply don't have any ability to do it."
More information about virtual kidnapping can be found on the FBI website. Winnipeggers who have been targeted by such frauds should call the Winnipeg Police Service at (204) 986-6222.