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Australia sees surge in offences against Chinese

FCRO Subsection: 
Editorial Staff

Fraud committed against Chinese in Australia has been a problem for a while as criminals use a variety of tactics. It is known, for example, that young foreign Mandarin speakers are recruited abroad to visit Australia for short periods, affecting tourism status, where they follow a script to commit fraud or extortion in a way similar to the boiler-room scams often run by Europeans in South East Asia. This year is is already far worse than the whole of last year.

The Australian Consumer and Competition Commission has issued, through its Scamwatch scheme, a warning to Chinese resident in Australia about the growing problem and, in particular "alarming scams that involve extortion via fake
kidnappings and threats of arrest."

In 2019, Scamwatch has received approximately 900 reports about scams targeting the Chinese community, with losses totalling over AUD1.5 million. This figure already exceeds total losses to the scam for 2018 which came to just under AUD1.2 million. Losses have been experienced in NSW, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia; however the scam is targeting people nationwide.

“These scams are particularly distressing, and we’re seeing a dramatic spike in Chinese being targeted. In July alone, Chinese-speakers lost over three quarters of a million dollars. We’ve seen several individuals lose tens of thousands of dollars,” ACCC Deputy Chairman Delia Rickard said.

There are two main variations of this scam. First, speaking in Mandarin, a scammer will call directly or leave an ‘urgent’ voice message to call back. The fraudster may, for example, impersonate a parcel delivery service and/or Chinese authorities and claim you are in serious trouble as they have intercepted a package addressed to you with fraudulent documents such as fake passports. They will then threaten you with extradition to China to face criminal charges in court unless money is sent to them. They will claim this money is needed to prove your innocence while they investigate the supposed crime.

“Scamwatch has received multiple reports of a cruel variation of this scam targeting Chinese students in Australia,” Mrs Rickard said.

The fraudster will tell their victims, usually students, that they have been involved in criminal activity, and threaten them and even their family, with criminal sanctions unless they pretend they have been kidnapped, including by taking photos of themselves bound and gagged.

Extortionists will then use these photos to extort money from the student’s family by claiming the student has been kidnapped.

“The most important thing Chinese in Australia can do to protect themselves from this scam is be aware of how it works and
warn their friends and family,” Mrs Rickard said. “If you’re ever called by someone making threats about arrest or deportation, it is a scam. It’s very frightening to receive these calls and criminals use your fear against you so you’ll send them money or participate in a bogus kidnapping.”

Ironically, the material for some types of scam comes from the Australian TV series Border Patrol which shows a range of border offences, many committed by students or those intending to work illegally, and occasionally raids by immigration officers on the homes of e.g. overstayers, many of which are ethnically, if not in terms of citizenship, Chinese. As a result, it would not be surprising if many were almost expecting a metaphorical knock on the door even though they have done nothing wrong. That makes them susceptible to the activities of such fraudsters.