17 held over kidnap scams in Shenzhen

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 February, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 February, 2010, 12:00am

At least 51 attempts to swindle families through false claims that their children had been kidnapped were reported in Shenzhen in just 16 days last month, police said yesterday. Seventeen suspects were arrested.

Shenzhen police said the swindlers tried to obtain ransoms from schoolchildren's families by claiming in text messages or phone calls that their children had been abducted. The children were later found unharmed at school.

'The suspects either threatened or blackmailed parents for ransom without kidnapping or hurting their children,' police said. 'Parents should calm down and report to police when they receive similar calls.'

The authorities launched a 16-day crackdown on child kidnapping last month after a series of abductions from April to November that left three children dead. A government official who works closely with police said as many as 23 children were kidnapped in Shenzhen last year.

One swindler, a 28-year-old Tianjin man, was captured in Luohu district on January 25 after he told 13 Shenzhen parents and two others outside Guangdong that their children had been abducted. Police also seized 66 debit cards and five fake identity cards from his flat.

The hoax kidnap calls have continued this month. On February 2, a grandmother in Luohu district received a phone call demanding a 200,000 yuan (HK$227,600) ransom for her kidnapped grandson. 'I heard a boy cry out to me, saying, 'I have been kidnapped, they beat me brutally, help me',' Luohu district police quoted her as saying.

She was warned not to report the case to the police or the hostage would be killed. Her grandson, unharmed, was found by his mother half an hour later.

A mother in the same neighbourhood received a similar call a day earlier, with a boy crying 'Mum, help me, they beat me up' and a stranger demanding a 150,000 yuan ransom. The mother was anxious when her son, who studies abroad, did not pick up her call but he was confirmed safe the next day.

Suspects in those two cases are still at large.

Shenzhen police said similar cases began appearing in October. They refused to say how much had been defrauded from parents.