The scammers contact the victims, tell them they are implicated in crimes back home in China, and threaten harm to their families if they do not cooperate. At the same time, the scammers tell the parents in China that their child has been kidnapped, and they must pay a large ransom.
Lennon Chang, Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Monash University, says mainland Chinese and Taiwanese people have been victims of scams like this since the late 1990s.
The criminals usually collect personal information such as the student’s name, birthday, university attended and their original home. This helps to build “trust” with the victims, and convince parents that their child has been kidnapped. The crime syndicate behind the scam is usually based in another country, making crime investigation difficult.
What is new in this type of scam, says Mr Chang, is the choice to target Chinese and Taiwanese students. As the international student is separated from family, it’s hard for the family to confirm whether the kidnapping is real. If the student doesn’t contact their family or leave a message with friends, the story seems genuine, and the parents are likely to pay the ransom.
Mr Chang has a number of suggestions to help prevent you from becoming a victim.
Report the scam to the police immediately.
Inform and educate the parents overseas.
Students and parents should set up diverse ways of keeping in contact, such as sharing the contact information of their close friends, so the parents have another way to contact their children.
Parents should have a special way or code to indicate to each other when they really are in danger.
Make your personal information and data secure. Schools and colleges also must share this responsibility and make their own systems secure.
Be careful what information you post online, and be alert when adding a new friend on social media.
The AFP, Chinese embassy, and Taiwan Cultural and Economic Office in Canberra have all issued an alert to students about the scam.