Chinese scammers fake kidnap for millions

Perry Duffin

Fraudsters targeting Chinese expats in Australia and other western countries are scamming millions of dollars from people by impersonating consulate staff, threatening violence and forcing their victims to stage their own kidnapping.

Thousands across NSW have randomly received phone calls, which begin with a person speaking English then Mandarin, police say.

The phone call, which may come through the popular Chinese messaging app WeChat, mentions debts or unpaid fines.

The target is transferred to a person, who claims to be an official from the Chinese consulate or embassy, who makes threats of violence against the target or their family unless payments are made.

If the victim is unable to pay, the scammers instruct them to fake their own kidnapping so their family can be extorted into making payments on their behalf.

NSW Police say the ruse is evolving and the tactics are changing but more than $5 million has already been scammed in NSW alone.

One NSW victim paid $1.9 million to scammers and, in the past week, there have been three forced fake kidnappings, said NSW Police Financial Crime Squad commander Linda Howlett.

Victims have been found across Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, she told reporters in Sydney on Wednesday.

"We want to close this scam down," Det Supt Howlett said, adding police from around the nation were working with the Australian Federal Police and international agencies to track the calls and find the culprits.

South Australia Police issued a warning earlier in May after a scammer claiming to be Shanghai Police threatened to deport people.

They are aware of three cases in South Australia where victims have paid money amounting to more than $350,000.

Western Australia Police Force also issued a warning in May about "virtual kidnapping" scams targeting Chinese Australians.

So far there have been no arrests in Australia and it is believed the calls are originating from Asia.

Det Supt Howlett urged people receiving the calls to hang up, stressing that no one from the government would ask for payments over the phone.