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The elaborate hoax sees scammers contacting students, speaking in Mandarin and purporting to be from some kind of Chinese authority, before convincing them they have been implicated in a crime in their home country.
They are then coerced into renting hotel rooms and sending photographs and videos of themselves tied up and blindfolded, which are sent on to families along with demands for ransom money.
All the while, students are told to cut off all contact with their family, who subsequently hand over huge sums in exchange for their release. Invariably the scammers will continue to make threats and demands until they can obtain no further funds, at which point many families contact police.
This year alone, eight virtual kidnappings have been reported to New South Wales Police (NSW Police), with fraudsters obtaining AUD $3.2 million (£1.8m) in ransom money.
NSW Police Force State Crime Command Director, Detective Chief Superintendent Darren Bennett, said police have engaged with the Chinese Embassy and Chinese Consulate in Sydney to warn the community of such scams.
He 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.
"NSW Police have been assured from the Chinese Consulate-General in Sydney that no person claiming to be from a Chinese authority such as police, procuratorates or the courts will contact a student on their mobile phone and demand monies to be paid or transferred. If this occurs, it is a scam.
"This year alone, NSW Police are aware of eight instances of virtual kidnappings where ransom payments that range between $20,000 (£11,000) to $500,000 (£277,250) and in one case - $2 million (£1.1 million) - have been paid.
"While we are working with our law enforcement colleagues to investigate the origins of these scams, we are urging the community to heed our warnings not to respond to the caller's demands."
NSW Police Force Corporate Sponsor for the Safety and Wellbeing of International Students, Assistant Commissioner Peter Thurtell, said virtual kidnappings have had a hugely damaging impact on victims.
He said: "The victims of virtual kidnappings we have engaged are 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.
"The community should be reassured that NSW Police will pursue these criminals through every investigative avenue available and that bilingual officers are on hand to assist those who speak English as a second language."
The advice for anyone in the region who receives a call involving demands for money under the threat of violence is to hang up, contact the Chinese Consulate in Sydney to verify the claims, and report the matter to the NSW Police Force.
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