‘Virtual kidnapping’ scams targeting the families of Chinese students in Australia are on the rise, NSW police say.

Four instances of the scam have been reported to NSW Police in the past month, with victims receiving threats unless they pay between $175,000 and $250,000.

The total amount demanded exceeds $750,000.

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The ‘virtual kidnapping’ scam involves young people being told they have been involved in a crime and need to pay a sum of money to avoid being deported or arrested.

This information is delivered over the phone, with the person on the other end usually speaking in Mandarin and claiming to be a representative from a Chinese authority.

“Using technology to mask their physical locations, scammers encourage victims to continue communications through various encrypted applications such as WeChat and WhatsApp,” NSW Police said.

“The victim is then threatened or coerced into transferring large amounts of money into unknown offshore bank accounts.”

Chinese international students in Australia are being coerced by scammers into faking their own kidnappings to get their families to pay ransoms. Credit: NSW Police

As the scam escalates, the victim will be threatened into faking their own kidnapping via photographs.

These photos will then be sent to their family alongside demands for ransom payments.

“The families involved are led to believe the victim is in danger and a ransom needs to be paid to secure their ‘release’,” police said.

Police are aware of four incidents of ‘virtual kidnapping’ that took place in NSW last month.

In one instance, a 22-year-old woman in Sydney’s southwest received a phone call from a person claiming to be from Chinese police, who told her she had been implicated in a crime.

After being told she would have to pay to prove her innocence, she transferred $20,000 into an offshore account.

The 22-year-old was then ordered to pay an additional $174,000. The scammer demanded she fake her own kidnapping in a hotel to ensure her family in China sent over the money.

After staff at the university she was attending contacted police with concerns about the woman’s welfare, investigations commenced and the woman was found before any more money was paid.

Another family of a Chinese student paid a scammer $270,000 after the 23-year-old woman was also coerced into faking her own kidnapping.

A photo provided by NSW Police of a Chinese student faking his own kidnapping. Credit: NSW Police

The woman was found safe in a Sydney hotel by police after friends reported that she had been kidnapped.

Robbery and Serious Crime Squad Commander, Detective Superintendent Joe Doueihi said preying on international students was “disgraceful”.

“Most … are living in a new country and far away from loved ones for the first time in their lives,” he said.

“The community should note that anyone calling them on their mobile and claiming to be from a Chinese authority, such as police, prosecutor, or the courts, and then demanding money be transferred is a scammer.”

He said victims of the scam should not be embarrassed or ashamed about coming forward to police.

“We have bilingual officers available who can help those who speak English as a second language, and our detectives will continue to pursue these criminals through all the investigative resources at our disposal.”

Detectives are working closely with universities, the NSW government and the Chinese Embassy and Chinese Consulate in both Sydney and Canberra.

Anyone who receives a call involving demands for money under the threat of violence has been advised by police to hang up, contact the Chinese Consulate in Sydney to verify the claims and then call NSW Police.

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