Australia's Chinese communities lose $1.5 million to fake kidnapping, parcel scams

Some victims were told to pretend they had been kidnapped. Source: Victoria Police

More than 900 people in Australia's Chinese communities have been taken advantage of by phone scammers.

Authorities are warning Australia's Chinese communities to be wary of phone scams after 900 people lost more than $1.5 million this year alone.

Releasing the figures on Monday, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) said it was particularly worried about a bizarre scam in which students are tricked into posing as kidnapping victims.

Scammers encourage victims to pretend they have been kidnapped and send photos to their parents, who will then transfer money.
Victoria Police

The callers tell the students they've engaged in criminal activity and threaten them with criminal sanctions unless they take photos of themselves bound and gagged.

The photos are then used to extort money from the victim's family by claiming the students have been kidnapped.

The other main scam call involves a courier or Chinese authority alleging to have intercepted a parcel addressed to the victim with fraudulent documents such as fake passports.

The caller threatens them with extradition to China to face criminal charges unless money is sent to them to prove their innocence.

ACCC deputy chairwoman Delia Rickard said "these scams are particularly distressing, and we're seeing a dramatic spike in the Chinese community being targeted".

"In July alone, the Chinese-speaking community lost over three quarters of a million dollars. We've seen several individuals lose tens of thousands of dollars."

'80-90 per cent of students' affected

David* of the Sydney University Chinese Student Association said scam calls were pervasive among Chinese students on campus.

"To give you a rough estimate, I'd say 80-90 per cent of [Chinese students] have probably received a scam call," he told SBS News.

Students at the University of Sydney.
Students at the University of Sydney.

David said the most common scam among students was the fake courier call, followed by calls purporting to be from the Chinese embassy.

"They claim to be an officer at the embassy and they ask us to submit some sort of a file, or they ask us to assist them with some sort of a crime."

But he said universities, authorities and the embassy had reached out to Chinese students warning them about such scams.

"We have received notification from the [Chinese] embassy, telling us what they will do if an actual embassy officer calls ... They have taught us how to identify if they are authentic officers or not."

David said many Chinese students "were now prepared after all these warnings," but voiced concern that newly-arrived students "may fall into these traps".

"For me, when I first arrived in Australia, I would say receiving a call from the embassy or a courier service saying there is a parcel for me, there would have been a high chance I'd believe it," he said.

The ACCC's Ms Rickard advised anyone who is called by someone making threats about arrest or deportation, to hang up and report it to the authorities.

"It's very frightening to receive these calls and scammers use your fear against you so you'll send them money or participate in a bogus kidnapping," she said.

"Don't fall for their threats. Instead, hang up the phone and report it to your local police. If you think the scammer has your bank account details, contact your bank immediately."

*Name has been changed

Additional reporting: Nick Baker

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