Australian police have reported that Chinese students in the country are being coerced by criminal gangs into faking their own kidnappings, and asking their families for ransom payments.
According to CNN, this is part of an elaborate global extortion racket targeting vulnerable immigrants oversea.
Eight Chinese students living in Sydney were recently conned into faking their kidnapping and demanding payments ranging between $20,000 and $2 million for their ‘safe release’.
New South Wales Police has said it is working alongside the Chinese government to track down those responsible, MailOnline reports.
Head of the NSW robbery and serious crime squad, detective superintendent Grant Taylor, explained that criminals contact their victims and convince them to fake their own abductions.
It almost exclusively involves someone speaking in Mandarin claiming to be a representative of Chinese authority, such as the Chinese Embassy, consulate or police and convinces them they have been implicated in a crime in China and they must make payments to avoid being deported, their visa cancelled or other threats of possible arrest.
The scenarios are varied but the motive is to instil fear in the victim that they face the prospect of having to return home and abandon their education.
According to DailyMail, victims are convinced to book themselves into a hotel before sending a message to their families saying they have been kidnapped.
They are also told not to use social media or their phone after sending the message.
The scammers then order their victims to send a picture to their parents of them tied up and blindfolded, or alternatively a voice recording of them begging for help.
Subsequently, family members of the victims, out of fear, transfer large sums of money into unknown bank accounts.
When they are successful, they coerce victims into giving them more money as they continue the scam.
In one case, the father of a 22-year-old Chinese student in Sydney handed over a more than $1.4 million after being sent a video of his daughter bound in an unknown location.
Another family in China paid more than $14,000 after receiving a video of their 22-year-old relative bound and blindfolded via the messaging app WeChat. She was later found by NSW police safe in a hotel room.
NSW Assistant Commissioner Peter Thurtell in a statement said;
The student victims are left traumatised by what has occurred, believing they have placed themselves, and their loved ones, in real danger.
Superintendent Taylor said the victims are never in real physical danger as the entire scam is operated over the phone through encrypted applications such as WeChat or WhatsApp.
We normally are notified because the victims literally have no money left or they may confide in another member of the community who conveys to them that it is most likely a hoax and they should contact police.
The NSW police said scammers were targeting vulnerable members of the Chinese-Australian community, such as international students living away from friends and family in an unfamiliar environment.
There are about 165,000 Chinese students in Australia this year, though the number may be lower due to the coronavirus pandemic.