An investigation has revealed that Chinese students in Australia are being forced to fake their own kidnappings so that scammers can extort money from the students’ families. Police in New South Wales have issued a warning about these “virtual kidnappings” which have been happening at alarming frequency over the last couple of years.
- What is a “virtual kidnapping” anyway? The crime sees Mandarin-speaking scammers claiming to be from a Chinese authority and telling the students that they’ve somehow been implicated in a crime back home. They then are forced to rent hotel rooms and send photos of themselves tied up and blindfolded back to their families at home so that the scammers can get ransom money.
- The students are cut off from their families. Part of the reasons the scammers are so successful with these fake kidnappings is because they force the students to cut off contact with the families, allowing the scammers to continue making threats and getting more and more money. Once there’s no more money to be had, the families often contact the police but it’s too late.
- Fake kidnappings are making scammers a ton of money. New South Wales Police claim that this year alone, there have been eight reported virtual kidnappings which have netted the fraudsters $3.2 million Australian dollars in ransom money. That’s insane!
- NSW Police are trying to work with Chinese authorities to put a stop to this. NSW Police Force State Crime Command Director, Detective Chief Superintendent Darren Bennett, said police have been in contact with the Chinese Embassy and Chinese Consulate in Sydney to warn the Chinese community in the country against the scams, but it’s unclear how effective this has been.
- Anyone targeted should not meet the scammers’ demands. “Virtual kidnappings are designed to take advantage of people’s trust in authorities and have developed considerably over the last decade by transnational organized crime syndicates,” Detective Bennett said in a statement. “While these phone calls appear to be random in nature, these scammers seem to be targeting vulnerable members of the Chinese-Australian community. NSW Police have been assured from the Chinese Consulate-General in Sydney that no person claiming to be from a Chinese authority such as police, procuratorates or the courts will contact a student on their mobile phone and demand monies to be paid or transferred. If this occurs, it is a scam.” Bennett added, “While we are working with our law enforcement colleagues to investigate the origins of these scams, we are urging the community to heed our warnings not to respond to the caller’s demands.”
- Victims of this terrible crime are really suffering. “The victims of virtual kidnappings we have engaged are traumatized by what has occurred, believing they have placed themselves, and their loved ones, in real danger,” said NSW Police Force Corporate Sponsor for the Safety and Wellbeing of International Students, Assistant Commissioner Peter Thurtell. “In these instances, it is often friends and family that encourage victims to come forward and report the crime to police, as victims feel embarrassed or ashamed by what has transpired. The community should be reassured that NSW Police will pursue these criminals through every investigative avenue available and that bilingual officers are on hand to assist those who speak English as a second language.”