Chinese students forced to fake own kidnapping to con families out of 'ransom' money

July 27, 2020

Chinese students in Australia have been forced to fake their own kidnappings to extort their families out of large "ransom" payments.

New South Wales Police have responded to at least eight reports of "virtual kidnapping" this year, including one where fraudsters were paid $2m (£1.1m).

Police in the state released a video of one man who had faked his kidnapping and was seen sitting in a shower with his legs tied up.

Other images showed similar scenarios, including a woman lying beside a pile of cash and a pocket knife.

Police say fraudsters often call their victims and convince them they have committed a crime in China, have had their identity stolen, or must pay to avoid being arrested or deported.

Using encrypted communication such as WeChat and WhatsApp they coerce them into cutting communication with loved ones.

Victims are told to rent a hotel room and take video and pictures of themselves blindfolded and tied up, before a large "ransom" demand is sent to relatives overseas.

The scammers often make repeated threats and orders until they stop receiving money.

Not all victims fake their own abductions - some are coerced into transferring money into offshore bank accounts themselves.

In one fake kidnapping, the father of a 21-year-old woman paid more than $2m (£1.1m) after demands by someone pretending to be from the Chinese police.

He said he had received a video of his daughter "bound, in an unknown location".

A Sydney woman also called police after the parents of her housemate were sent a video of their daughter "pleading for help" and were unable to contact or find her.

Assistant Commissioner Peter Thurtell, from NSW Police, said the victims were "traumatised by what has occurred, believing they have placed themselves, and their loved ones, in real danger".

"In these instances, it is often friends and family that encourage victims to come forward and report the crime to police, as victims feel embarrassed or ashamed by what has transpired.

Detective Chief Superintendent Darren Bennett, also from NSW Police, said virtual kidnappings are designed to take advantage of people's trust in authorities and "have developed considerably over the last decade by transnational organised crime syndicates".

"While these phone calls appear to be random in nature, these scammers seem to be targeting vulnerable members of the Chinese-Australian community."

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