A family’s nightmare: a $288,000 virtual kidnapping scam haunting international students

Criminals exploit international students’ families back home by making deportation threats and orchestrating virtual kidnappings.

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Australian police have issued an urgent warning for international students to be on high alert after at least three incidents of a disturbing scam in just the past fortnight. The rise in virtual kidnapping schemes has law enforcement officers in New South Wales deeply concerned about the scope and evolution of this criminal enterprise.

Detective Superintendent Joseph Doueihi from the Robbery and Serious Crime squad remarked on the increasing complexity of these scams. “Virtual kidnappings have developed considerably over the last decade by transnational organised crime syndicates, and they continue to become more sophisticated” he said.”In some cases, we’re seeing evidence of the scammers talking to their victim for months on end.”

The mechanics of the scam: from threats to false kidnappings

The scam typically kicks off with an unsettling phone call, informing the recipient they’ve been implicated in a crime in China or have had their identity stolen. What follows is a series of threats ranging from arrest and deportation to legal action, unless a fee is paid. The criminal’s method escalates in severity, often leading victims to transfer large sums of money into offshore accounts, as per NSW Police.

In an even more disturbing development, victims are sometimes directed to enact their own kidnappings, complete with hotel room rentals and self-binding while on camera. These images are then distributed to their overseas families, upping the ante for the desperate parents to pay for their child’s “release.”

A high cost: families pay the price in money and emotional turmoil

One family endured the horror of transferring $288,000 to a Chinese bank account under the false belief that their 23-year-old relative had been kidnapped in Sydney. It was only after the money had been sent that they contacted NSW Police, who found the young woman safe and unharmed on Hunter Street in Sydney.

Doueihi revealed a sinister twist: “We’ve also seen a couple of cases where the victim has eventually been coerced into then becoming the perpetrator and acting as a Chinese official to scam more students.” Earlier this year, Victoria Police also raised the alarm on similar scams targeting international students, making it crucial for families and students to remain vigilant.

As the year winds down, this emerging high-stakes criminal operation serves as a grim reminder of the perils of the digital age, where even an innocuous phone call can turn life upside down.

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