'Virtual kidnappings' warning for Chinese students in Australia
Elaborate “virtual kidnappings” are being used to extort money from the friends and relatives of Chinese students Down Under, Australian police warned on Tuesday after a spate of transnational scams were reported.
Police said that conmen claiming to be Chinese authorities had netted millions of US dollars in ransoms by scaring students into faking their own kidnappings.
The scammers, often calling in Mandarin and claiming to be from the Chinese embassy, police or consulate, initially say the victim is accused of a crime in China or tell them their identity has been stolen before threatening them with deportation or arrest unless a fee is paid, police said.
The fraudsters then continue to threaten the victim until they transfer large sums into offshore bank accounts.
In some cases, victims were told to cease contact with friends and relatives, rent a hotel room and take pictures or video recordings of themselves bound and blindfolded, with the conmen using the footage to demand ransoms.
Police said at least eight cases have led to more than A$3 million (US$2.1 million) in ransom payments this year in Australia.
“We have had a spate in the last few months where pretty much every weekend we have had a victim fall for one of these scams,” said Darren Benett, director of the crime command in the state of New South Wales. “If you get one of these phone calls, hang up, ring the police, ring your university, but just don’t pay any money.”
Chinese officials said no authority would contact students on their mobile phones to demand money.