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 A$2m (£1.1m;$1.43m) ransom was paid.
Victims had believed they or their loved ones were in peril, police said.
New South Wales (NSW) Police said the scheme had “really increased in frequency throughout 2020” and was operating on an “industrial scale”.
They have urged students to right away report any threatening calls they receive.
How does the scam work?
Authorities said the “call center-type” scam was being operated offshore, which made it difficult to trace.
It typically involves a fraudster pretending to be from the Chinese embassy or another authority, ringing victims, and informing them that they need been implicated during a crime in China or face another threat.
The scammers, who usually speak Mandarin, then demand the scholar pay ongoing fees so as to avoid arrest or deportation.
In some cases, the scholars also are convinced to cease contact with their family and friends, rent a bedroom, and faux a hostage situation to get funds from their relatives overseas.
In one case, a father had already paid quite A$2m (£1.1m; $1.43m) in ransom payments, before receiving a video of his daughter gagged and bound in an unknown location.
He then contacted police in Sydney who, after an hour’s search, found the lady safe and well at a bedroom within the city.
In other cases reported to police this year, payments ranged from A$20,000 to A$300,000.
“On some occasions, [families] have basically paid every cent they have,” said Detective Chief Superintendent Darren Bennett.
In many of the cases, when police were contacted they typically found the victim safe subsequent day. Often the victims felt too embarrassed or ashamed to report the crime.
“The victims of virtual kidnappings we’ve engaged are traumatized by what has occurred, believing they need to place themselves, and their loved ones, in real danger,” said NSW Police.
Why are people falling for it?
Police said the scam was operating on a mass scale and seemed to involve a blitz of automated phone calls sent to anyone with a Chinese surname within the phone book.
“They cast their net vary widely and they are getting a couple of people that fall for it, which is extremely lucrative for them,” said Mr. Bennett.
He noted that there had been a pointy increase within the past few months, where “pretty much every weekend we’ve had a victim fall for one among these scams.”
Advocates for international students in Australia say they need been more vulnerable amid the pandemic thanks to their reliance on casual work, and their exclusion from government welfare.
Police said “cultural factors”, also because the isolation of some international students, made them a vulnerable target.
Victims could then be manipulated into extremes like faking a kidnap because that they had fallen under the scammer’s “psychological control”, Mr. Bennett said.
“Students can do two important things to guard themselves against these sorts of crimes – firstly, remember they exist and secondly, invite help early if they think it’d be happening to them or someone they know,” said NSW Police.
There have also been reports of such frauds occurring in New Zealand and the United States.
Source: bbc news