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<p>Members of the Chinese community living in Australia, particularly students, are being targeted by a phone scam exploiting the fact that they are separated from their families.</p>

Members of the Chinese community living in Australia, particularly students, are being targeted by a phone scam exploiting the fact that they are separated from their families.

Several University of Melbourne students have reported receiving these calls or voicemails, always in Mandarin; not just limited to international students or those who speak Mandarin.

This compounds a difficult year for those studying at the University of Melbourne from abroad, with a number of students’ enrolments terminated after being lured into purchasing fake doctor’s certificates.

A Facebook post by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) details the methods used by the scammers:

– The victims are told they are implicated in crimes in China.

– The scammers then coerce the victims into a series of actions and make threats that their families in China will be harmed if they don’t cooperate.

– The victims’ families in China are told by the scammer their family members have been kidnapped and will only be released if a large sum of money is paid.

“In each case, the scammers communicate with the victims in Mandarin and falsely claim to be Chinese government officials,” the AFP stated.

In a statement by Victoria Police, the Chinese Embassy and Chinese Consulate-General have confirmed that the calls are not from them.

“[They] would never call Chinese citizens requesting personal information, such as bank account information or passport details.”

Reeanna Maloney, principal lawyer with the UMSU legal and advocacy department, revealed further details about what makes the scam so convincing.

“It is more sophisticated than previous scams because it uses technology that replicates real phone numbers for government departments, consulates and police services both in Australia and internationally,” Maloney said.

The Chinese Embassy revealed that telephone numbers, specifically 02-62283999 and 02-6283948, originally the numbers of the Switchboard and Consular Assistance Phone of the Embassy, have been misused. These are the steps that callers frequently take:

1) Calls start with an automated message stating that the Embassy has an important notification for the recipient.

2) The message instructs victims to press nine for an operator, where the caller asks for victims’ names, phone numbers, passport numbers and personal information.

3) Callers inform victims that their bank cards or personal information have been stolen and misused, and that they are involved in a criminal case in China.

4) The victims are questioned by the fraudulent caller, who claims to be a member of the Chinese Public Security Department or the International Criminal Police Organisation. In some cases, victims are able to access a fake warrant, complete with their name, by logging on to a fraudulent website.

5) Victims are informed that they will need to transfer funds to resolve the issues.

Andy Jiang is a Chinese-national student who has been targeted by the scam.

“In the beginning, the other party’s service voice was particularly formal and friendly. At the same time, it was also very rational in the process of handling documents and communicating with me.”

“In the eyes of the Chinese people, the embassy is a very reliable institution, and our sense of nationality comes from here,” said Jiang.

Hanson Wang, vice-president of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA) confirmed that the CSSA is planning to provide more information about the scam to Chinese students studying in Victoria.

“We are likely to hold a lecture facing all Chinese students studying in Victoria at the beginning of next semester in regard of the scam call recently,” Wang said.

Farrago has reached out to UMSU International and the Australia–China Youth Association for a comment but neither party responded. Maloney offered some advice to students on how best to avoid scams.

“If students receive a call from someone asking for personal information, bank account details, passport information or requesting a transfer of money, they should hang up. If the call purports to be from a police department, consulate, embassy or other government department, they can call the organisation back and ask if the organisation previously contacted them.”

“Scammers will try to emotionally manipulate people into sending money and providing personal information. Students need to be aware that any time money is transferred or given to someone else, it is almost impossible to get it back if it’s a scam,” Maloney advised.

To help with the investigation, Victoria Police is also encouraging students to take screenshots of the messages delivered on the social media channels and retain phone call records.

Anyone who feels they are being, or have been scammed, should contact their local police or consulate immediately.

For tips on how to protect yourself from or report scams, visit Scamwatch or contact the University’s Safer Community Program.

Farrago's magazine cover - Edition Three 2021


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