Chinese students are so afraid of China that scammers extort money citing bogus crimes back home

In Australia, students have received a stern warning to be cautious of individuals masquerading as Chinese officials due to a series of intricate ‘virtual kidnapping’ scams.

Throughout October, New South Wales (NSW) has reported three instances of this fraudulent activity, prompting the police to encourage victims to step forward and assist with the investigations.

Scammers have succeeded in persuading some students that they are entangled in criminal activities in China or that their identities have been stolen. These students are then coerced into either paying fines or facing arrest and deportation.

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Reportedly, some victims are manipulated into transferring money directly to the scammers’ accounts, while others are pressured into feigning their own kidnappings. This ordeal often compels victims to sever all communication with their families, rent a room, and send photos depicting themselves tied and blindfolded.

As per reports, the fraudsters subsequently forward these images to the victims’ relatives back home, demanding substantial ransom payments in exchange for their release.

NSW Police suspect that the scammers usually approach victims by posing as representatives from Chinese authorities, effectively concealing their location and identity through encrypted messaging services like Skype, WeChat, and WhatsApp.

Images of victims in distress have surfaced, with one depicting a bound individual with red-stained ropes and another showing a woman lying with her hands tied behind her back, surrounded by cash, a knife, and what appears to be identification cards.

When the victims’ families do not hear from their loved ones, the scammers reach out to them, presenting the staged images and demanding significant ransoms for the victims’ supposed ‘release.’

In one instance, a 23-year-old woman’s family paid approximately $288,000 to an offshore account in ransom, only for her to be located shortly thereafter on Hunter Street in Sydney by NSW Police on October 15.

Just two days earlier, police intervened at a residence in Sydney’s Zetland, where a 23-year-old man had been in contact with scammers posing as Chinese officials.

Police allege that the scammers coerced the man into requesting $500,000 AUD from his family to postpone his arrest for alleged fraud charges in China.

Additionally, a 20-year-old man reported his virtual kidnapping to the Surry Hills Area Command on October 4. He was initially contacted by scammers who accused him of financial frauds in China.

Subsequently, he was coerced into meeting two men posing as Chinese Police in August, who kept him handcuffed for two hours.

After his family refused to pay $220,000 to the scammers, he was forced to serve ‘official documents’ on behalf of Shanghai Police to four addresses in Sydney, Adelaide, and Victoria, which were apparently future targets for the scam.

Police had issued warnings about these scams in May after a 17-year-old boy was targeted and coerced into requesting $20,000 from his family. Detective Superintendent Doueihi urged the public, particularly international students, to exercise caution when contacted by individuals claiming to be Chinese officials.

While investigations into the origins of these scams are ongoing, the police urge individuals not to comply with the callers’ demands.

If they receive such correspondence, he recommended contacting the Chinese Consulate to verify the claims and reporting the matter to the NSW Police Force.

Victims are encouraged not to feel ashamed about seeking help, as law enforcement agencies continue their efforts to put an end to these types of scams.

Incidents of virtual kidnapping have been reported both in Australia and internationally, with some cases resulting in scammers receiving over $1 million AUD.

It is believed that the incidence of virtual kidnappings has risen as Chinese students returned to Australia following COVID-19 restrictions.

This year, over 40,000 international students are expected to arrive in Australia, as the Chinese Government lifted its ban on online studies at international universities.

This marks a significant return to normalcy after a decline in the number of Chinese students during the COVID-19 pandemic, from 165,149 in September 2019 to just 78,234 three years later.