Edmonton police are warning the public about a “virtual kidnapping” scheme that targets young female Chinese students in Alberta and B.C.

Scammers pretending to be Chinese government officials or members of Chinese law enforcement agencies are calling young female students studying in Canada and convince them that they’ve been convicted of committing crimes back in China, police said during a press conference on Thursday.

The callers then tell the victims to go into hiding and threaten to harm their families if they refuse, police allege. The females are told they will be deported back to China if they try to contact Canadian law enforcement.

“They’re convincing them not to trust the local police agencies,” Sgt. Kevin Harrison of the Edmonton Police Service said.

Police said the victims’ families are contacted and told the females are being held against their will and demand a ransom for their release.

RCMP in B.C.’s lower mainland informed Edmonton police of the scam after a number of incidents were reported there. They began investigating the fraudulent calls in July.

A few females in Edmonton have come forward and said they have received phone calls similar to the ones described by police, but officers don’t believe, to date, anyone in Alberta has fallen for the scheme.

Police are asking any victims to contact them at 780-423-4567 or they can anonymously call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

With files from CTV Edmonton’s Matt Woodman