POLICE have issued a warning to Chinese students in Australia amid an alarming increase in ‘virtual kidnapping’ scams, which have netted millions of dollars from victims around the world.
NSW Police have confirmed there have been eight known incidents this year alone, which have managed to obtain $3.2 million in ransom payments.
The sophisticated extortion scam involves young victim faking faking their own kidnappings following phone calls from fraudsters – usually speaking in Mandarin and claiming to be a representative from a Chinese authority, like the Embassy, Consulate or Police.
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The fraudsters convince the victim they have been involved in some kind of crime in China or that their identity has been stolen and they need to pay a fee to avoid legal action or being deported.
They are then further threatened into transferring money into offshore bank accounts and, in some instances, convinced to fake their own kidnapping.
They are forced to take pictures of themselves bound and blindfolded and those images are then shared with the victim’s loved ones overseas to extort more money out of them to secure a ‘release’.
NSW Police Force State Crime Command Director, Detective Chief Superintendent Darren Bennett, said police have engaged with the Chinese Embassy and Chinese Consulate in Sydney to warn the community of such scams.
“Virtual kidnappings are designed to take advantage of people’s trust in authorities and have developed considerably over the last decade by transnational organised crime syndicates,” Det Ch Supt Bennett said.
“While these phone calls appear to be random in nature, these scammers seem to be targeting vulnerable members of the Chinese-Australian community.
“NSW Police have been assured from the Chinese Consulate-General in Sydney that no person claiming to be from a Chinese authority such as police, procuratorates or the courts will contact a student on their mobile phone and demand monies to be paid or transferred. If this occurs, it is a scam.
“This year alone, NSW Police are aware of eight instances of virtual kidnappings where ransom payments that range between $20,000 to $500,000 and in one case – $2 million – have been paid.
“While we are working with our law enforcement colleagues to investigate the origins of these scams, we are urging the community to heed our warnings not to respond to the caller’s demands,” Det Ch Supt Bennett said.
NSW Police Force Corporate Sponsor for the Safety and Wellbeing of International Students, Assistant Commissioner Peter Thurtell, said the international community are urged to contact police if they suspect they have been a victim of a scam.
“International students who have chosen to study abroad in Australia, are in an unfamiliar environment and often living away from family and friends for the first time,” Assistant Commissioner Thurtell said.
“For any students who receive calls from someone claiming to be a Chinese official and wish to check on the validity of the caller – we urge them to contact the Chinese Consulate in Sydney for advice.
“We also urge students to seek advice from their university or school, and report the matter to police, who will act in their best interests and welfare.
“The victims of virtual kidnappings we have engaged are traumatised by what has occurred, believing they have placed themselves, and their loved ones, in real danger.
“In these instances, it is often friends and family that encourage victims to come forward and report the crime to police, as victims feel embarrassed or ashamed by what has transpired.
“The community should be reassured that NSW Police will pursue these criminals through every investigative avenue available and that bilingual officers are on hand to assist those who speak English as a second language,” Assistant Commissioner Thurtell said.