Australian police warn Chinese students of ‘virtual kidnap’ scam

Australian police have warned Chinese officials and universities about a spurt in “internet kidnapping” scams that would compel foreign students to falsify their own abductions and trick families overseas into paying ransoms. As friction has risen between Australia and China over trade, human rights and state-linked hacking allegations, police said eight virtual kidnapping cases were reported this year, involving a combined reward of A$ 3.2 million ($2.3 million).

Scam perpetrators call intended victims in the form of a Chinese local official to warn of being involved in a crime in China and pay a fee to prevent legal prosecution, detention or deportation, police said. Some scammers advise victims to sever contact with family and friends, rent a hotel room and take bound and blindfolded photographs or video recordings of themselves, and then send the pictures to their relatives overseas to apply pressure, the police added.

New South Wales has recruited 212,000 students from overseas, police say. Australian universities have warned that they run the risk of losing billions of dollars in annual fees due to the coronavirus prompted border closures.