Investigations are continuing after a teenage student was involved in a “virtual kidnapping” incident in Sydney, which has seen more than $213,000 transferred into an offshore account.
NSW Police received reports of a missing 18-year-old Chinese woman on September 8 after friends became concerned for her welfare.
Photos and videos of the woman had been sent to family members using popular messaging service WeChat before large sums of money were demanded by a person pretending to be Chinese police to ensure her safe release, police say.
Following extensive inquiries from NSW Police, Chinese authorities and the Australian Federal Police, the woman was found unharmed in the inner-city suburb of Pyrmont on September 15.
Police have since raided a Chatswood unit, while a 22-year-old male has spoken with officers. Investigations continue.
In one of the photos, a pair of bare legs can be seen with police trying to determine if that person is a victim themselves or involved in the scam.
NSW Police Force state crime command director Detective Chief Superintendent Darren Bennett said police were urging the community to remain vigilant to such elaborate phone scams.
“Less than two months ago, the NSW Police Force issued a warning to the community about ‘virtual kidnapping’ scams targeting Chinese students studying in Australia,” Det Chief Supt Bennett said.
“It appears these scammers are continuing to operate and are once again preying on the vulnerabilities of individuals in the community who are not in direct physical contact with their families.”
Det Chief Supt Bennett said this particular incident had begun in July when the woman received an email from someone posing as Chinese police saying her personal details had been illegally used on a package intercepted overseas.
“The individuals behind these ‘virtual kidnapping’ scams continually adapt their scripts and methodology which are designed to take advantage of people’s trust in authorities,” he said.
What is virtual kidnapping?
Police are reminding Chinese nationals authorities in China would never contact students demanding money and such behaviour should be reported to the Chinese Consulate in Sydney and police.
Earlier this year NSW Police issued a warning after a rise in virtual kidnappings, a type of extortion scam.
At least nine students this year have fallen victim to the scams, which have netted criminal syndicates a minimum of $3.4 million.
Students are typically telephoned by a Mandarin speaker who purports to be someone holding authority in China such as an embassy, police or tax official. They are told they risk deportation or arrest unless their families pay a ransom.
The students send images of themselves bound and gagged, move into hotels and cut off all communications.
Anyone with information relating to incidents of virtual kidnappings should contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or online.
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