Elaborate virtual kidnappings sting Sydney students for millions

| 27.07,20. 07:17 PM |



Elaborate virtual kidnappings sting Sydney students for millions

A photograph of a Chinese student who has been lured into a fake kidnapping scam. (Supplied)



It starts with a mysterious robocall, can progress into a fake virtual kidnapping and in one case ended with scammers rinsing a victim of $2 million.

Eight 'virtual kidnappings' have been reported to NSW Police this year, with scammers targeting Chinese international students and successfully raking in a whopping $3.2 million in ransom payments.

NSW Police Detective Chief Superintendent Darren Bennett said the elaborate scams organised by global crime syndicates had ramped up in intensity this year.

The scams were an "industrial scale fraud type offence" and lefts victims and their families hugely traumatised.

Supt Bennett said he was aware some families had been scammed out of their entire life savings, including one Chinese student in Sydney's west whose family in China had paid out more than $2 million.

NSW Police had been alerted by a man in China who told them he had received a video of his 22-year-old daughter bound in an unknown location. She was later found to be safe, but he'd already paid the seven-figure ransom.

In April, police were contacted by a family in China who had paid $300,000 through a virtual kidnapping which had targeted a 20-year-old Chinese student on Sydney's north shore.

"It's very lucrative when you do get someone to fall for it," Supt Bennett said.

A 'virtual kidnapping' is a sophisticated extortion scam that involves young victims faking their own kidnappings following phone calls from fraudsters – who then demand ransom payments for their safe release from relatives.

Initial contact is made through a robo phone call from someone usually speaking in Mandarin and claiming to be a representative from a Chinese authority, such as the Chinese embassy, consulate or police.

The scammers then convince the victim they have been implicated in a crime in China, or their identity has been stolen and they must pay a fee to avoid legal action, arrest or deportation.

"It's a very egregious crime," Supt Bennett said.

He warned Chinese students to report the calls to police immediately.

NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Peter Thurtell said the robo calls will dial countless numbers, largely random but with a preference for phone registered under Chinese names, in the hope of finding a victim.

Once hooked, the offshore criminals use "psychological control" to extort victims.

The plan continues to evolve "over a number of days or even weeks".

?How does the scam work
After luring in a victim, scammers encourage victims to communicate on encrypted applications such as WeChat and WhatsApp.

The victim is then threatened or coerced into transferring large amounts of money into unknown offshore bank accounts.

In some instances, victims are convinced to fake their own kidnappings – known as a 'virtual kidnapping'.

Scammers instruct victims to cease contact with their family and friends, rent a hotel room and take photographs or video recordings that depict them bound and blindfolded.

These files are then shared with the victim's relatives overseas.

When the victim's parents are unable to establish contact with their child in Australia, they send large ransom payments in exchange for their 'release'.

?How widespread is the scam
Last year, 1172 'Chinese authority' scams were reported across Australia by Scamwatch, with a total loss in excess of $2 million.

More than 212,000 international students are enrolled to study in NSW.

With thousands of Chinese nationals preparing to return on student visas following tight COVID-19 restrictions, police are urging vigilance.

NSW Police are working with the Chinese Embassy and Chinese Consulate in Sydney to raise awareness of the scam.

9news


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