Kidnapping Scam: Penalties & Responding to a ‘Kidnap Call/Text’

Last updated on August 14, 2020

man scamming elderly man on phone

In Singapore, the offence of kidnapping is provided for under the Kidnapping Act and the Penal Code, which this article will detail. It will also cover staged kidnapping, how to identify a staged kidnap, as well as what to do if you receive a call or text claiming kidnap.

The Offence of Kidnapping and Its Elements

Under the Kidnapping Act

Under the Kidnapping Act, the offence of kidnapping involves:

  • Abducting;
  • Wrongfully restraining; or
  • Wrongfully confining,

a person for the purpose of ransom.

Intention to obtain ransom

You must have had the intention to hold the victim for the purpose of obtaining ransom. Such intention can be shown if you had made the demand for ransom because you hold your victim in captivity and your victim’s well-being is in your hands.

Ransom refers to any money you demand for (either belonging to you, such as a debt or the victim’s loved ones) in return for the freedom of your victim and is an unlawful gain.

Abduction for ransom 

You would have committed abduction if you compel through force, or through deceit to induce, the victim to go from any place. It does not matter whether the victim showed resistance or whether the victim had been conscious during the abduction.

Wrongful restraint for ransom

On the other hand, you would have committed wrongful restraint if you voluntarily obstruct your victim to prevent the victim from going anywhere although your victim has the right to move in that particular direction, like blocking your victim’s path.

Wrongful confinement for ransom

Finally, you would have committed wrongful confinement if you wrongfully restrained your victim by restricting their movement within an area, like a walled space in an alley or by blocking the entrances and exits of a building.

Under the Penal Code

Under the Penal Code, you may have committed the offence of kidnapping if you had either:

  • Kidnapped someone from Singapore: Bringing the victim beyond the limits of Singapore without the victim’s consent, or the consent of a person who is legally authorised to give such consent on the victim’s behalf or
  • Kidnapped someone from lawful guardianship: Taking or enticing a victim, who is either a minor under 16 years of age or of unsound mind, out of the keeping of the victim’s lawful guardian without the guardian’s consent.

The Penal Code also includes the offence of abduction, which involves the offender compelling through force, or through deceit to induce, the victim to go from any place.

Differences Between Kidnapping and Abduction

The differences between the kidnapping and abduction offences in the Penal Code and Kidnapping Act can be summarised in the table below:

Under the Penal Code Under the Kidnapping Act
Kidnapping offence
The offence is made out if: The victim had been removed from Singapore, or if the victim is a minor or of unsound mind, and had been removed from his/her unlawful guardianship The victim was abducted, wrongfully restrained or wrongfully confined with the intention of demanding ransom. The victim need not have been removed from Singapore or removed from lawful guardianship
Penalties Up to 10 years’ jail, and either fined or caned Either the death penalty, or life imprisonment and caning
Abduction offence
The offence is made out if: The victim was forcefully compelled or deceived into going from any place Not applicable
Penalties Up to 7 years’ jail, a fine, caning or any combination of these punishments Not applicable

The tougher punishments under the Kidnapping Act highlights Singapore’s determination to deter potential kidnappers from committing such offences.

Offences and Penalties for Kidnapping

Under the Kidnapping Act

If you commit the offence of kidnapping by abduction, wrongful restraint or wrongful confinement for ransom, then you may be punished with the death penalty, or given life imprisonment and caning.

The Kidnapping Act also provides penalties for certain kidnapping-related acts. For example, if you receive or dispose of money that you know to be ransom money, you would be punished with imprisonment for up to 10 years and be liable to caning.

Under the Penal Code

If you kidnap a victim from Singapore or from the victim’s lawful guardianship, the Penal Code provides a penalty of Imprisonment for up to 10 years and either a fine or caning.

The Penal Code also provides for other kidnapping-related offences: for example, if you kidnap a victim for the purposes of murdering them, you may be punished with the death penalty, or given life imprisonment and caned.

What is Staged Kidnapping? 

A staged kidnapping involves a plan to cheat money from individuals by informing them that their loved ones are being held hostage or have been kidnapped by some other person or group, where in reality, the supposed victim had not been kidnapped.

A scam advisory by the Singapore Police Force on 16 June 2018, highlighted the modus operandi of scam kidnappings involving Chinese national students in Singapore:

  • Step 1: Strangers who fraudulently represent themselves as Government officials would make unsolicited calls to the victim. The calls would usually involve using caller-ID spoofing technology and this would make the stranger appear as though they belong to official government hotline numbers such as “999”.
  • Step 2: They would inform the victim that the victim had committed criminal offences and they required the victim to assist in criminal investigations to prove the legitimacy of the victim’s money.
    • These victims would be requested by the stranger to withdraw their money and pass it to strangers or transfer the money through a cryptocurrency cash deposit machine or to another bank account.
    • At the same time, These victims would also be instructed by the stranger to update their location to them over the following days. The syndicate would later inform the victims to change their SIM cards and log out from their social media messenger.
    • These victims would also be deceived into giving out their personal information on their families in China to the strangers who would make use of such information to cheat their parents.
  • Step 3: The strangers would then contact the victims’ parents who are based overseas to inform them that their children had been kidnapped and then demand payment of ransom monies.

Penalties for Staged Kidnapping 

If you falsely claim to someone that you or another person have been kidnapped and ask a certain someone to make payment towards a false demand for ransom, you may have committed the offence of cheating.

For committing cheating, you would be punished with imprisonment for up to 3 years and/or fined.

An example is the case of Mr Vincent Lau Boon Kiat who attempted to cheat money out of family members by telling them that he was being held hostage by the “local mafia” in Vietnam. He had done so to pay his debts and help his girlfriend’s family.

He pleaded guilty to one charge of cheating his brother of S$1,000 and was jailed for 5 months.

Is Kidnapping an Arrestable Offence?

All forms of kidnapping are arrestable offences. An arrestable offence is one where the police can arrest a suspect without a warrant.

Once the suspect has been arrested, it is up to the police or the court to decide whether to release them on bail.

How Will Offenders be Sentenced?

Under the Kidnapping Act

The courts have a very limited discretion regarding the sentence because it is limited to the imposition of either death or imprisonment for life with caning.

A plea of guilt is a mitigating factor (which usually reduces your sentence) that the court must take into consideration in assessing the sentence to be imposed on you if you pleaded guilty. However, the fact that you pleaded guilty alone does not entitle you to the lesser sentence of life imprisonment.

The court would pass a sentence on you taking into consideration all the facts and surrounding circumstances of the case including of course the plea of guilty if you had so pleaded.

The death sentence may only be meted out where the manner of the kidnapping or the acts or conduct of the kidnappers would outrage the feelings of Singapore’s community.

For example, if the manner of the act or the act itself, is vicious or shows blatant disregard for human life, such as a kidnapper continuously striking the victim on the head with a weapon, to keep him unconscious.

Under the Penal Code

With respect to sentencing for kidnapping from lawful guardianship, the court looks at the duration of the act, the motive for the abduction, and any harm caused to the victim.

Will People Convicted of Kidnapping have a Criminal Record

Yes, if you are convicted of kidnapping, you will have a criminal record.

Moreover, your criminal record could not be treated as spent. In other words,your criminal record for kidnapping will stay with you for life.

What to Do If You Receive a Call or Text Claiming “Kidnap”?

The Singapore Police Force has advised the public to not panic, believe or give any money when you receive a call or text claiming “kidnap”.

If you’ve received a text claiming kidnap 

The police advised those who receive such messages to remain calm, not to reply, and to instead block and report the number as spam.

If there might be a chance that the message is legitimate, try to contact the supposed victim of the kidnapping directly to check if they have actually been kidnapped. If you are still unsure after doing so (for example, if you are not able to reach the supposed victim), it might help to file a police report.

If you’ve received a call claiming kidnap

You are also advised by the police to ignore such calls from strangers and their instructions.

In cases of kidnapping scams, you are reminded that government agencies will neither instruct you to make payment through a telephone call or other social messaging platforms (e.g. WeChat, Facebook) nor ask you for your personal banking information (e.g. internet banking passwords).

What to Do If You’re Charged with Kidnapping

If you have been charged with kidnapping in Singapore, you should engage a criminal lawyer to look through your case and assist in determining what would be an appropriate charge against you, as soon as possible.

The toughest sentence that can be imposed for kidnapping is the death penalty and a criminal lawyer can assist in attempting to have the charge and sentence reduced.

You can get in touch with experienced criminal lawyers here.

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