University of Waterloo students are being advised to be cautious of a new scam threat that has occurred in Toronto and Hamilton.

Chinese students in Toronto and Hamilton have been receiving calls from unidentified people that inform them their family will be harmed if the student does not go into hiding and abandon all social media for a set amount of time. This creates the appearance of an actual kidnapping, so that the scammers can contact the students’ families back in China and demand ransom money.

According to Detective Sergeant Steve Girhiny, a member of the Major Frauds Unit in the Waterloo Regional Police Service, this isn’t the only threat Waterloo students should be weary of. There is another scam that has actually occurred at Waterloo, where a scammer contacts international students and portrays themself as a government agent from the student’s home country. They state that the student is a money laundering suspect and must turn over a significant amount of money for investigation. Of course, the scammers keep the money.

Girhiny says that these swindlers prey on international students that are not “completely aware” with how the laws “may differ” between Canada and their home country. This is one of the reasons why domestic students are not targeted as often, also because it is easy for scammers to tap into a foreign student’s “fear” of being “alone and away from their [family].”

The best way to defend oneself  is to be skeptical and “always ask questions.” Specifically in regard to the tax scams, everyone should be aware that “no government agency will ever ask you for money.”  He adds that it is understandable for victims to become fearful and cooperate with scammers when they are threatened but “police involvement should always be considered.”

Finally, Sergeant Girhiny advises students “not to panic” if anyone is contacted in a similar nature to the situations described above, and to get a hold of the police immediately.

Photo taken by Jasmine Grannum

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