The ACCC’s Scamwatch service is warning the Chinese community in Australia to be wary about two alarming scams that involve extortion via fake kidnappings and threats of arrest.
In 2019, Scamwatch has received approximately 900 reports about scams targeting the Chinese community, with losses totalling over $1.5 million. This figure already exceeds total losses to the scam for 2018 which came to just under $1.2 million. Losses have been experienced in NSW, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia; however, the scam is targeting people nationwide.
“These scams are particularly distressing, and we’re seeing a dramatic spike in the Chinese community being targeted. In July alone, the Chinese speaking community lost over three quarters of a million dollars. We’ve seen several individuals lose tens of thousands of dollars,” ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.
There are two main variations of this scam. First, speaking in Mandarin, a scammer will call directly or leave an ‘urgent’ voice message to call back. The scammer will impersonate a parcel delivery service and/or Chinese authorities and claim you are in serious trouble as they have intercepted a package addressed to you with fraudulent documents such as fake passports.
The scammer will then threaten you with extradition to China to face criminal charges in court unless money is sent to them. They will claim this money is needed to prove your innocence while they investigate the supposed crime.
“Scamwatch has received multiple reports of a cruel variation of this scam targeting Chinese students in Australia,” Ms Rickard said.
The scammer will tell their victims, usually students, that they have been involved in criminal activity, and threaten them and even their family, with criminal sanctions unless they pretend they have been kidnapped, including by taking photos of themselves bound and gagged.
Scammers will then use these photos to extort money from the student’s family by claiming the student has been kidnapped.
“The most important thing members of the Chinese community in Australia can do to protect themselves from this scam is be aware about how it works and warn their friends and family,” Ms Rickard said.
“If you’re ever called by someone making threats about arrest or deportation, it is a scam. It’s very frightening to receive these calls and scammers use your fear against you so you’ll send them money or participate in a bogus kidnapping.”
“Don’t fall for their threats. Instead, hang up the phone and report it to your local police. If you think the scammer has your bank account details, contact your bank immediately.”