The international phone scam netting millions: Are you at risk?

The NSW Police Force is warning members of the community about an elaborate international phone scam targeting Chinese expats, which has netted millions of dollars worldwide.

Thousands of people across NSW have reported receiving a call from someone speaking in Mandarin, and police are aware of people who have fallen victim to the scam.

Investigators have been told the calls involve demands for money under the threat of violence or harm to the receiver, their family and friends.

There have been reports victims across Australia, as well as New Zealand, USA, Canada, and United Kingdom, have been scammed of millions of dollars.

An elaborate international phone scam targeting Chinese expats has netted millions of dollars worldwide. Source: Yahoo Magazines.

Financial Crimes Squad Commander, Detective Superintendent Linda Howlett, said the calls appear to be random, but ultimately targeting vulnerable members of the Chinese-Australian community.

“The caller purports to be a government official and the essence of the scam is to convince the victim they are in trouble, but they can pay their way out of it,” Det Supt Howlett said.

“We’ve been told victims are contacted either on their mobile phone or via an app, such as WeChat, and while the incoming number appears to be from a local landline, it has been ‘spoofed’ or ‘ported’ to an unknown location.

“The call often starts with a recorded message in English or Mandarin, and transfers to a person claiming to be from the Chinese Embassy or Consulate.

“The caller claims the victim has been implicated in a crime or their identity has been stolen, which could impact on their visa to stay in Australia or harm could come to their family back home.

“The victim is then told the call will be transferred to the ‘investigators’ or ‘police’, who demand personal details, including bank accounts, PINs, passports, family information, and in some cases, cash payments.

Investigators have been told the calls involve demands for money under the threat of violence or harm to the receiver, their family and friends. Source: AAP, file

“In some cases, the victim is told not to speak to friends or family as it may put them in danger too.”

Police urge the community not to provide any personal information to callers such as these, and report the call immediately.

Det Supt Howlett said police have engaged with the Chinese Embassy and the Chinese Consulate-General.

“They have advised they would never call citizens to convey the notice of Chinese police, financial institutions, or other organisations,” Det Supt Howlett said.

“Further, they do not request personal information over the phone, nor would they ever demand bank account information or payments.

“While we are working with our law enforcement colleagues to investigate the origins of the scam, we are urging the community to heed our warning not to respond to the caller’s demands.

“If a call is received, the best course of action is to hang up and report to police.”

Police are urging anyone with information that may assist investigators in relation to this scam to call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or use the Crime Stoppers online reporting page.

Information provided will be treated in the strictest of confidence.

What to do if you’re being scammed:

Police remind the public to take the following precautions to reduce the risk of being scammed by cold-callers:

  • If you receive a threatening phone call (and demanding money), hang up immediately;
  • Do not disclose personal details to the caller;
  • Never provide your personal or banking details to a person who calls you;
  • Never provide your financial PIN or account passwords to anyone;
  • Do not make any payments to the caller, either via phone, internet, or cash;
  • If you are suspicious about the credentials of a person on the phone, ask questions of them. If they avoid answering or refuse to provide information, hang up;
  • Don’t let scammers pressure you – scammers use detailed scripts to convince you that they’re the real deal and create a high-pressure situation to make a decision on the spot;
  • If you think you have provided your account details to a scammer, contact your bank or financial institution immediately; and
  • Contact police immediately to report the incident.

To find out more information about scams or to find out other ways to protect yourself, visit www.scamwatch.gov.au.

If you have been the victim of a scam, you can report it to local police or to the ACCC online at the ‘SCAMwatch report a scam’ page or by calling 1300 795 995.