Chinese students in Australia have been forced by phone fraudsters to stage their own kidnappings in order to extort millions from their families, Australian authorities said on Monday.
NSW Police, “along with Chinese authorities and universities,” have warned community members of an elaborate phone scam targeting Chinese students, known worldwide as the “kidnapping virtual”. In 2020 alone, the agency identified eight incidents in which crooks targeting Chinese international students successfully obtained a total of $ 3.2 million in ransom.
In one such case, a father in China paid crooks over $ 2 million before he received a photo of his gagged and tied up daughter. At that time, he contacted NSW Police, who found the woman an hour later, alone and unharmed in a hotel room in Sydney, the BBC reported.
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Phone fraudsters – who usually speak Mandarin – have called Chinese students in Australia, posing as Chinese embassy, consulate or police officials, investigators say. They first convince the students that they have been involved in a crime in China or that their identities have been stolen and that they must pay a fee to avoid legal action, arrest or deportation.
Using the technology to hide their physical locations, the crooks then encourage students to continue their communications through various encrypted apps such as WeChat and WhatsApp. The victim is then threatened or forced to transfer large sums of money to unknown offshore bank accounts. In some cases, students have been convinced to fake their own kidnappings.
The crooks are asking Chinese students to stop contact with family and friends, rent a hotel room, and take photos or video recordings that depict them being tied and blindfolded. These files are then shared with relatives of the victim abroad.
When the victim’s parents are unable to establish contact with their child in Australia, they send large ransom payments in exchange for their “release”, NSW police said in a statement. The caller will continue to make threats and demand a ransom until he is unable to secure further payments, often forcing the victim’s family to contact the police.
Darren Bennett, director of the NSW Police National Police Command, said police have been in contact with the Chinese Embassy and Consulate in Sydney about the scams.
“International students, who have chosen to study abroad in Australia, live in unfamiliar surroundings and often live far from family and friends for the first time,” said Deputy Commissioner Peter Thurtell, sponsor of NSW Police for the safety and welfare of international students. added.
“The victims of the virtual kidnappings that we have committed are traumatized by what happened, believing that they put themselves and their loved ones in real danger,” he said.
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He said students who receive calls from someone claiming to be a Chinese official and wanting to verify the validity of the caller should contact the Chinese Consulate in Sydney for advice. Students should also seek advice from their university or school and report the problem to the police.