Singapore Police arrest 2 men in impersonation and staged kidnap scams; victims lost SGD 445,000

The Singapore Police Force (SPF) have unearthed yet another scam — of impersonation and fake kidnappings — and made two arrests in this regard, as per a media statement issued yesterday. Two victims of these scams have lost about SGD 445,000.

Fake kidnapping video
Footage from the fake kidnapping videos made by fraudsters. The victims (seen as hostages) were made to believe that these videos were meant to raise awareness; in reality, these videos were sent to the families of the victims to demand ransom. Photo courtesy: Singapore Police Force

Two suspects, aged 21 and 25, were arrested in the course of SPF investigations into these very elaborate scams. The police described these as “China officials impersonation scams” — the scam victims were made to believe by the fraudsters that the victims were talking to officials in China.

Arrests were made very swiftly, within hours of the police receiving two separate reports of kidnappings. Both of the reports were filed last Wednesday — one report was about a 19-year-old woman and another was about a 21-year-old man.

According to details released by the police, the parents of these two young people lived in China, and they had received videos of the young woman and man being held hostage. The videos showed the hostages getting ransom demands from unidentified people talking in Mandarin.

Alarmed by the videos, the parents in China contacted their acquaintances in Singapore, who immediately took the matter to Singapore Police.

The SPF immediately began investigations, tracked down the two people supposedly being held hostage, and discovered that they had not been kidnapped.

The police ascertained that the ‘hostages’ in the video had been fooled by impostors, and they had been forced to participate in fake kidnapping videos.

Scam suspects arrested in Singapore
Two suspects were arrested in Singapore within hours of the police getting two reports of kidnapping. These suspects had played the captors in the fake kidnapping videos. Photo courtesy: Singapore Police Force

Elaborate web of deception and extortion

The “China officials impersonation scam” began with a fraudulent phone call to the first victim, the 19-year-old woman. On October 31, 2023, she got a call purportedly from an officer of the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) of Singapore.

This (fake) ICA officer then transferred the call to someone claiming to be a police officer from China. The (fake) China official told the victim that her identification details had been used to get a bank card issued, and that the said bank card had been used for money-laundering in China.

The terrified victim was then told that she would have to pay “bail money” in order to prevent being arrested and deported. She did as she was told, and wired more than SGD 230,000 to the bank accounts of “China Police”, revealed the SPF.

The Singapore victim was also made to believe that she was a suspect in an ongoing investigation. In order to maintain the charade, the fraudsters made her “report” to “China Police” several times a day.

Next came the part about the fake kidnapping video. In early January 2024, the victim was told by the “China Police” official to aid the ongoing investigations by making such a video — the young woman, who did not dare refuse the “official”, was told to make a video that would show her tied up and held captive.

This video, she was informed, would be used for an anti-scam awareness campaign. The “China Police official” organised the video set-up and the victim was told to play her part.

In the staged video, the role of the kidnapper was played by one of the two men now arrested by the SPF. This suspect, aged 25, pointed a weapon (a kukri dagger) at the victim, who was tied up as a “hostage”, and played the villain.

About a week after the staged kidnapping video was recorded, the “China Police official” told the victim that she would have to stay alone at a “safe house”. This “safe house” would be arranged by the 25-year-old who had played the kidnapper in the video.

No communication with anyone, including the victim’s family in China, was permitted. This, too, was for the sake of the investigation, said the “China Police official”.

With the victim isolated in the “safe house” and cut off from everyone she knew, it became easy for the fraudsters to then convince the family in China that the young woman had been kidnapped and that a ransom had to be paid for her release. The so-called “awareness video” of the staged kidnapping was sent to her immediate family in China as a real kidnapping video.

Luckily for the victim, her family in China managed to reach the police in Singapore. The SPF found her quickly and rescued her from the clutches of the scammers.

Similar modus operandi, using fear and isolation

The other Singapore victim, the 21-year-old man, went through exactly the same experience of suffering. He, too, had to wire about SGD 215,000 in “bail money” to “China Police”, was forced to play the “hostage” in a fake kidnapping video, and then was told to isolate himself in a “safe house”.

Only, in his case, the first call, which came in early November 2023, made a different allegation. This victim, who also got a call from a (fake) ICA officer, was told that there was a Chinese mobile number registered to his name that had been used to spread COVID-19 rumours in China.

From there on, the sequence of events matched those of the other case. Once this young man was forced to go into hiding — as before, “to aid the ongoing investigations” — his family in China got the staged kidnapping video as a real kidnapping and a ransom demand was made. In this video, the younger suspect, aged 21, played the captor and similarly brandished weapons at the victim.

Weapons used in fake kidnapping videos
Weapons and other items used in the staged kidnapping videos, seized by the police. Photo courtesy: Singapore Police Force

SPF investigations found that the two arrested suspects acted on behalf of the scammers; they rented the places in Singapore that served as the so-called “safe houses”.

The two suspects also took away the victims’ mobile phones and gave them new phones and different numbers. By doing this, scammers had full control over the victims, preventing any outside contact. The victims felt too afraid to call the police.

During their investigations, Singapore Police seized the weapons and other things used in making the fake kidnapping videos.

In the media statement, the SPF reminded the public that no one in Singapore could be arrested by any law enforcement agency from another country. This was a reference to the “China Police official” impersonation.

“The police take a serious view against any person who may be involved in scams, whether knowingly or unwittingly, and they will be dealt with firmly, in accordance with the law,” said the SPF.