Scammers are creating an elaborate ‘virtual kidnapping’ in which Chinese international students are contacted and told they are allegedly implicated in crimes back home in China. Pretending to be Chinese officials, the scammers then coerce students to perform specific tasks, such as fake hostage videos, with the threat of violence against their family if they do not comply.
“[Students may] not be able to talk with their family or social networks to check if it is a scam”
They are often also instructed to cease all contact with their family.
Simultaneously, the victim’s family is also contacted by the scammers informing them that the victim has been kidnapped, using the fake videos as evidence, and demanding large sums of money for their release.
According to a media release from the Australian Federal Police, the scam was made more complicated by the scammers using Mandarin, which helped convince victims that they were communicating with Chinese officials.
Similar reports have also emerged in Canada and the US, with several students in Vancouver contacted by scammers over Chinese messaging app WeChat.
ISANA president Bronwyn Gilson said international students were susceptible to online scams due to several factors including distance, fear and cultural misunderstandings.
“[Students may] not be able to talk with their family or social networks to check if it is a scam [and they] could be scared of online surveillance of their communications,” she said.
“[There can be] reluctance to go to the police for fear their family will be harmed, not being sure if the police have connections to the purported Chinese government officials, or feel they might put their visa at risk.”
Gilson told The PIE News it was unlikely the scam would have a noticeable long-term impact on a country’s reputation as a study destination but said that would depend on whether institutions and the community responded appropriately.
Reports of the scam have been shared by INTERPOL Canberra to local police throughout Australia and Chinese officials.
International students were targeted in the UK by scammers posing as Home Office agents demanding money for supposed immigration abuse in March 2018.