October 20, 2020

Family of ‘virtual kidnapping’ scam victim pays $200k ransom

A 18-year-old international Year-12 student in Sydney, Australia who was the victim of a “virtual kidnapping” scam, has been found safe after her family back in China paid over $200,000 in ransom.

This Chinese student was reportedly found by NSW Police in the Sydney suburb of Pyrmont on September 15. She was reported missing to police a week earlier by her friends.

Phone scammers, targeting Chinese international students, have reportedly been paid over $3 million in ransom payments in eight incidents of ‘virtual kidnapping’ reported to the NSW Police this year.

In such phone scams, fraudsters posing as Chinese authorities, convince students to fake their own kidnapping and ask their families to pay ransom for their release.

Quoting NSW Police, ABC News reports, this women spent eight days at the home of a Chatswood man, who himself was a victim of the scam and was unaware he was sheltering another scam victim.

Scam Victim
Victim used ‘WeChat’ to send videos to her family (Courtesy: ABC News/NSW Police)

“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 Detective Chief Superintendent, Darren Bennett said.

From his apartment in Sydney’s lower north shore, this Chinese student sent videos of herself back to her family, telling them she was being detained, was the victim of a kidnapping and they had to pay money for her release. They paid over $200,000 in ‘ransom’ to an offshore account.

The police has reportedly confirmed no charges were being laid on the man as he was “an innocent agent in all this.”

In fact, both of them didn’t know they had been scammed until they were contacted by police.

Such ‘virtual kidnapping’ scams have yet to surface in New Zealand, yet waves of other phone/online scams continue to hit Aotearoa.

According to online safety organisation, Netsafe, Kiwis reported a combined loss of nearly $23 million dollars from online scams and fraud to Netsafe from 1 July 2018 to 20 June 2019. The largest single loss reported was approximately $5 million.