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Chinese students studying in Australia targeted in a virtual kidnapping scam

Chinese students in Sydney are being targeted in a kidnapping scam forcing them to pay massive ransoms to fraudsters, Australian police say.

In many cases, blackmailed students were forced to stage their own kidnapping and send video proof to relatives in China to obtain funds.

Eight “virtual kidnappings” have been reported this year, including one where a US$1.43 million ransom was paid.




Victims had believed they or their loved ones were in danger, police said.

New South Wales Police said the scheme had “really increased in frequency throughout 2020” and was operating on an “industrial scale”.

They have urged students to immediately report any threatening calls they receive.



Call centre-type scam:

Authorities said the “call centre-type” scam was being operated offshore, which made it difficult to track.

It typically involves a fraudster pretending to be from the Chinese embassy or another authority, ringing victims and informing them that they have been implicated in a crime in China or are facing some other threat.

The scammers, who usually speak Mandarin, then demand the student pay ongoing fees in order to avoid arrest or deportation.

In some cases, the students are also convinced to cease contact with their family and friends, rent a hotel room and fake a hostage situation to obtain funds from their relatives overseas.

When police were contacted they typically found the victim safe the next day. Often the victims felt too embarrassed or ashamed to report the crime.

“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,” said NSW Police.

Police said the scam was operating on a mass scale, and appeared to involve a blitz of automated phone calls sent to anyone with a Chinese surname in the phone book.




“They cast their net very widely and they’re getting a few people who fall for it, which is very lucrative for them,” said Mr Bennett.

He noted that there had been a sharp increase in the past few months, where “pretty much every weekend we’ve had a victim fall for one of these scams.”

There have also been reports of such frauds occurring in New Zealand and the United States.