An 18-year-old Chinese student in Sydney fell victim to a virtual kidnapping scam that duped her family into paying thousands of dollars for her release.
The bizarre abduction scheme started in July when the female student received an email from people posing as Chinese authorities.
According to the fraudsters, her personal details had been used illegally on a package that was intercepted overseas.
The student was then forced to fake her own kidnapping and demand ransom money from her family in China.
Friends reported that the student was missing just before 2 a.m. on Sept. 8. Shortly after, her family received photos of her being held in an unknown location.
The fraudsters demanded money for her safe release. Since July, the family had transferred $213,000 Australian dollars (about $153,000) into an offshore bank account in the Bahamas.
A strike force with investigators from the New South Wales (NSW) State Crime Command and local detectives was tasked to find the missing student. She was found in the home of a 22-year-old man in Pyrmont on Sept. 15.
Police have talked to the man, who thought he was assisting Chinese authorities in securing a “protected witness.” So far, it appears he was also duped in the scam.
“The 22-year-old man was contacted by people pretending to be Chinese police and told that he needed to meet with this girl and take her to her home address and keep her there because she was a protected witness for the Chinese police,” NSW Police Detective Chief Superintendent Darren Bennett said, according to ABC Australia. “We can’t find a detail that counters his version that he was an innocent agent in all this.”
Convinced to be in touch with Chinese officials, the victim agreed to avoid contact with her family and friends. This reportedly allowed the scheme to drag on.
Virtual kidnapping scams have targeted Chinese students in Australia for some time. In July, the Chinese Consulate-General in Sydney confirmed that no Chinese official would ever contact students via mobile phones nor demand money from them, the Global Times noted.
“It appears these scammers are continuing to operate and are once again preying on the vulnerabilities of individuals in the community who are not in direct physical contact with their families,” Bennett said, according to the Australian Associated Press. “The individuals behind these ‘virtual kidnapping’ scams continually adapt their scripts and methodology which are designed to take advantage of people’s trust in authorities.”
The 22-year-old man has not been charged. Investigations are ongoing.
Feature Images via NSW Police