The phone rings and an unknown voice tells you a loved one has been kidnapped. You can hear screams in the background as the caller gruffly gives you details of how to pay the ransom.
But don't rush to get the money together. Police across Asia say this sort of scenario is likely to be a scam, and that it is happening more often.
AdvertisementAsian regional police and consumer watchdogs are warning that a wide range of scams are on the rise as more businesses fail and people lose their jobs amid the gloomy global economic outlook.
In recession-hit Singapore, one of Asia's safest cities, police reported a 15 percent increase in phone-scam cases in 2008 from the year earlier, with 7.6 million Singapore dollars (5.1 million US) reported lost compared to 4.6 million dollars in 2007.
"The reports have increased dramatically," said David Scott Arul, deputy director of operations for the Singapore Police Force.
In addition to kidnap hoaxes, up nearly 20-fold from 2007-2008, two other phone scams are of concern to Singapore police.
In a lottery ruse, victims are asked to make advance payments before being able to claim a non-existent prize.
Another trick sees telephone conmen posing as court or police officials demanding money to close "investigations" involving the victims.
"Phone scams are expected to continue in these tough economic times and culprits may come up with new methods," the Singapore police said in an annual crime report that also forecast an increase in theft and cheating cases.
Australian authorities are also concerned that the world's worst economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s could encourage more scams.
"There is a clear possibility that scammers may look to capitalise on current financial uncertainty to 'phish' for personal financial information," said the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's watchdog SCAMwatch.
The most common ruse involved emails purportedly from financial institutions asking for personal details or money, SCAMwatch said.
It said more than 17,000 people in Australia reported falling prey to scams at a cost of 33 million dollars (22 million US) last year, and warned tough economic times can make people more vulnerable.
Swindlers "often adjust their messages to take into account current high-profile events or economic developments," SCAMwatch added, citing a growing incidence of employment scams in which fraudsters take advantage of growing unemployment to place job advertisements.
The ad, in newspapers or on Web sites, asks respondents to accept regular deposits into their bank accounts "for a commission," SCAMwatch said. This can lead to identity theft, or even a police inquiry about money laundering.
In South Korea, online "phishing" rose sharply to 163 cases in the second half of 2008 from 36 in the first half, according to government figures.
"The recent rises in scam-based crimes are partly about the increased access to potential victims that arises from the spread of Internet and other electronic media," an Australian criminologist told AFP.
"In a sense, it is not so much that there are more scams, but rather that scammers can reach more victims," said Stuart Ross, director of the Melbourne Centre for Criminological Research and Evaluation.
He said the economic crisis would also cause "increases in some forms of crime directly linked to poverty, like vagrancy, shop stealing, begging and other forms of street offences".
In Japan, police report more impulsive crimes such as skipping out on restaurant bills since the country last year plunged into recession and companies began laying off tens of thousands of workers.
Police recently arrested a 38-year-old Japanese man who allegedly failed to pay 3,670 yen (39 dollars) for food and other services at an Internet cafe. He had just five yen on him at the time and told police he had lost his job.
On a larger scale are the country's telephone scams, whose number has grown rapidly in recent years, especially targeting the wealthy elderly.
Nearly six billion yen was swindled in 3,718 scam cases last year, the National Police Agency of Japan said.
Police in Singapore have urged people to be on their guard.
"Cheating scams may take different forms but these scams are all designed to cheat victims into parting with their money," the annual crime report said.
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