New South Wales police urged vigilance following a rise in “suspicious” phone calls attempting to scam foreign students by telling them they have been implicated in a crime and must pay money to avoid deportation or arrest.
Police said that targets are initially contacted via phone calls in which the perpetrators commonly speak Mandarin and pretend to be from a Chinese authority, such as an embassy, consulate or police.
Scammers then continue communication with victims through encrypted platforms like WhatsApp and WeChat, before coercing them into transferring large sums of money into offshore bank accounts.
Victims are also made to fake their own kidnappings, blackmailed into to taking hoax pictures to be sent to family members who are told to pay ransom money to guarantee the victims’ ‘safe release’.
In one incident, the family of a 23-year-old woman paid AUS $270,000 to a scammer before the victim was located by police in a Sydney hotel at the beginning of May.
Similar fraud has occurred in other countries, including in Northern Ireland where two international students were scammed out of £105,000 last year by criminals posing as Chinese officials.
“It is disgraceful there are scammers out there are preying on international students”
Australian police said they are working with universities and the Chinese embassy to warn the community about these scams.
“The community should note that anyone calling them on their mobile and claiming to be from a Chinese authority, such as police, prosecutor, or the courts, and then demanding money be transferred is a scammer,” said robbery and serious crime squad commander, detective superintendent Joe Doueihi.
“It is disgraceful there are scammers out there are preying on international students who have come to Australia to study; most of whom are living in a new country and far away from loved ones for the first time in their lives,” he said.
“We understand that victims of virtual kidnappings may be traumatised or embarrassed following the incident – we want them to know there is no shame in coming forward to NSW Police for assistance.”