If you somehow encounter an automated message from a Mandarin-speaking woman claiming to be from the Chinese Consulate, chances are that you are being targeted for a new con.
Referred to as “robocall scam,” the con reportedly victimizes Chinese speakers in the United States and other parts of the world where there is a significant Chinese population.
It involves a pre-recorded message that tells the recipient to either pick up a package from a consulate office or to provide their personal information. The victim is then warned that if they choose not to abide, their rights to travel abroad will be jeopardized.
Using a technique called “spoofing”, some scammers are able to make the number for the Chinese consulate appear on the recipient’s phone, lending a bit of credibility to the calls.
Non-Mandarin speakers would only hang up the call in confusion, but those who do speak Chinese sometimes fall victim in fear of getting into trouble with authorities. In such cases, the phone call is reportedly connected to someone in mainland China.
There have been reports of victims in New York, Los Angeles, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) representative Patti Poss, the main objective of the con is to capture people’s credit card or bank account data or other personal information.
“Do not respond to these scams. If it came through the phone, hang up,” Poss tells SCPR.
A 65-year old Chinese woman from New York city reportedly lost $1.3 million to the scam, WNYC reports.
“She called to report that someone from the Chinese consulate called and said she needs to call the Beijing Police Department because she’s being investigated for financial crimes over in China,” said NYPD Officer Donald McCaffrey of the Queens Grand Larceny Division.
The FTC states that while they still have yet to identify who is behind these calls, the tactics employed in the Mandarin robocalls are similar to other cons in which the scammers impersonate government officials to steal personal information.
Hong Kong-based cybersecurity expert Ben Yates says people still fall for such a trick.
“The reason it works is people from mainland China, who are using shopping platforms from China, are vulnerable to those type of accusations that there’s something wrong with what you’re doing, you’re not entitled to make that type of transaction,” Yates said. “It plays on people’s fears…We’ve really seen this problem growing and growing here in Hong Kong.”
Yates believes that while the main operation is in mainland China, the collected money is routed to Hong Kong, where it’s allegedly easier to open an account and raise less suspicion from authorities.
Experts advise victims to report these calls to the Federal Trade Commission in the U.S. and corresponding local agencies elsewhere.