Virtual kidnappings’ warning for Chinese students in Australia

SYDNEY (AFP) – Elaborate “virtual kidnappings” are being used to extort money from the friends and relatives of Chinese students Down Under, Australian police warned yesterday, after a spate of transnational scams were reported.

Police said that conmen claiming to be Chinese authorities had netted millions of US dollars in ransoms by scaring students into faking their own kidnappings.

The scammers – often calling in Mandarin and claiming to be from the Chinese embassy, police or consulate – initially say the victim is accused of a crime in China or tell them their identity has been stolen before threatening them with deportation or arrest unless a fee is paid, police said. The fraudsters then continue to threaten the victim, often over encrypted message services, until they transfer large sums into offshore bank accounts.

In some cases, victims were told to cease contact with friends and relatives, then make videos of themselves tied up and blindfolded using the footage to demand ransoms.