Chinese students are being targeted in elaborate ‘virtual kidnappings’ by scammers who force them to feature in fake hostage videos so they can extort money from their parents.
The fraud begins with the Chinese student receiving a call saying that their family have been implicated in a serious crime back home in China.
The scammers pretend to be senior Chinese officials from the embassy, or international crime fighters, and threaten the students with violence before forcing them to perform specific tasks. These tasks can include filming fake hostage videos which involve the students tying themselves up, putting bags on their head and forcing themselves to cry.
The video is then sent to their families in China who are told to hand over large ransom payments. The students are told they are not allowed to contact their parents throughout the ordeal, and if they do not comply with the demands, threats are made towards their families.
The Chinese embassy in London issued a warning about “several” cases in the UK after similar frauds were reported in the United States, Australia and New Zealand.
The fraudsters are believed to make their realistic phone calls from overseas call centres, possibly in Asia. Many of the Chinese students fall for the scam as the callers speak in clear Mandarin Chinese.
The welfare of overseas students is a major issue in China. With rising incomes and a more adventurous younger generation, millions of Chinese teenagers opt to study abroad. Many younger Chinese have little experience of travel outside of China and often become targets for criminals because of perceptions that they have rich families.
The London embassy urged students to be vigilant about the scam and to contact the police with any information.
Yinbo Yu, NUS International Students’ Officer, said: “It’s an unfortunate truth that, in the current hostile environment, international students are increasingly feeling particularly vulnerable. These fraudsters are no more than vultures. Nevertheless, universities must do more to ensure students coming here to study are properly supported and feel adequately protected.
“The NUS International Students’ Campaign will be supporting local students’ unions and Chinese Students’ and Scholars Associations to make students aware of these fraudsters and to support those who have been affected.”
Additional reporting by Christine Wei
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