New South Wales Police have issued a warning to the public about an alarming “virtual kidnapping” telephone scam that has rapidly increased in recent weeks. The sophisticated extortion racket targets primarily international students from China, compelling them to feign their own abductions. In these orchestrated events, ransom payments are demanded from the students’ overseas relatives in exchange for their supposed safety.
Three such cases were reported to the NSW Police Force in October, with similar incidents being observed both interstate and abroad. The scammers typically converse in Mandarin, purporting to be from Chinese government agencies, such as embassies or consulates. They convince the victims of fictitious criminal backgrounds or identity thefts in China. Victims are then coerced into transferring large sums of money to undisclosed offshore bank accounts to allegedly prevent legal repercussions.
In these fake kidnappings, victims are directed to cut off all communications, rent hotel rooms, and produce fake images of themselves restrained and blindfolded. These distressing visuals are then dispatched to their families, compelling them to pay for their supposed release.
NSW Police Detective Superintendent Joseph Doueihi expressed concern over the increasing sophistication of these scams. “Virtual kidnappings have significantly evolved over the past decade, attributed to transnational organized crime groups. The methods employed by these criminals are advancing rapidly,” stated Doueihi.
Notably, in one case this month, a 20-year-old Sydney man was deceived into believing he faced deportation due to financial offenses. He was coerced to engage daily with the scammers, and even met two imposters who claimed to be Chinese police, who then detained him for several hours.
In the wake of more than $2 million being pilfered through the ‘Hi Mum’ scam, the Cybercrime Squad has amplified its warnings. Another two incidents within a week saw victims confronted with ransom demands reaching up to $500,000.
Det Supt Doueihi advises anyone receiving such calls to immediately contact the Chinese Consulate for verification and to report the incident.