26 September 2023

Police urge alert for ‘virtual kidnap’ scam

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NSW Police are urging the community to be on alert following a rise in ‘virtual kidnapping’ scams targeting Chinese international students.

Commander of the Robbery and Serious Crime Squad, Detective Superintendent Joe Doueihi said a ‘virtual kidnapping’ was an extortion scam that involved young people being told they had been implicated in a crime and needed to pay money to avoid deportation or being placed under arrest.

Supt Doueihi said there were four known incidents of virtual kidnapping in NSW in the past month alone, with scammers demanding $750,000 in total.

He said incidents of a similar nature had been reported to interstate and international law enforcement agencies, netting millions of dollars from victims around the world.

“Investigators have been told that initial contact is made through a 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,” Supt Doueihi said.

“Using technology to mask their physical locations, scammers encourage victims to continue communications through various encrypted applications such as WeChat and WhatsApp,” he said.

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

Supt Doueihi said that as the scam escalated, victims were coerced into faking their own kidnappings before the scammer sent the images to their family and demanded ransom payments.

He said the families involved were led to believe the victim was in danger and a ransom needed to be paid to secure their ‘release’.

“The community should note that anyone calling them on their mobile and claiming to be from a Chinese authority, such as police, prosecutor, or the courts, and then demanding money be transferred is a scammer,” Supt Doueihi said.

“We understand that victims of virtual kidnappings may be traumatised or embarrassed following the incident – we want them to know there is no shame in coming forward to NSW Police for assistance.”

He advised anyone who received a call involving demands for money under the threat of violence should hang up, contact the Chinese Consulate in Sydney to verify the claims and report the matter to the NSW Police Force.

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