Australian university students fall victim to kidnapping scam

29 May
May 29, 2018

A terrifying scam is circulating in Australia – Targeting foreign university students, particularly those who are Chinese and Taiwanese, as well as their families.

Students are supposedly called by the Chinese embassy and asked for information about themselves, under threat of deportation or claims that their families will be hurt if they do not cooperate.

Using this same information, parents are later called and told their children have been kidnapped, whilst demanding money for their safe return. A child begging for help in the background of the call is used to deceive the concerned families.

When parents attempt to call their children, they are made to ignore the call by scammers, who warn that speaking to others could get them in more trouble.

This elaborate scam has already conned families out of $2 million. The Australian Federal Police have issued a warning about this scheme taking place.

Dr Lennon Chang, a senior lecturer in criminology at Monash University, told that this type of scam was not new, but techniques are advancing.

“It’s not a new scam, just a new target,” Dr Chang said.

“It started in the late 1990s in Taiwan and the scammer would call parents in Taiwan telling them that they kidnapped their child and demanding a ransom.

“They would usually have the sound of a child in the background saying ‘Mum, Dad, help me!’ to make it more believable.”

Dr Chang continued to say that personal data protection laws are taken much more seriously now than they were when this scam first came about.

After Taiwan, the scam expanded and began taking place in China. Criminals set up a base on a small Taiwanese island in China’s vicinity, named Kinmen Island. This allowed them to connect to Chinese service providers.

The move to overseas countries such as Australia only complicates things, as families cannot contact their children as easily from foreign countries. It also makes it harder to catch the scammers as authorities from all the countries involved would have to collaborate, which will not be managed at a quick enough pace.

Dr Chang said, “We need to be encouraging students to let their parents know about the scam,” he said.

“Students should give their parents the contact details of the university and close friends as a second point of contact if they are worried about their welfare.”

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