Bizarre 'virtual kidnapping' scam sees crooks con £1million from worried parents

A criminal organisation has managed to extort more than £1.7million from panicked relatives in an elaborate “virtual kidnapping” scam that targets Chinese students studying in Australia.

Police said the organisation is looking targeting students in Sydney with Chinese surnames and the fraudsters, who speak Mandarin, convince victims that they are calling from the Chinese embassy and are implicated in a crime and risk deportation.

The scammers then convince the students to stop speaking to their relatives and fake a hostage situation to get money from their overseas family members.

Distressing video shared by New South Wales Police shows a young man apparently tied up on the floor of a bathroom.

The man, who is only wearing underwear, appears to be crying and in distress.

Relatives have been conned hefty sums to ensure the safe “release” of students – even though they were never in danger in the first place.

Fraudsters have obtained $3.2 million (£1.77 million) in ransom payments in a total of eight successful scams in 2020, police said.

Detective Chief Superintendent Darren Bennett said the “virtual kidnapping” phenomenon had skyrocketed in the past decade.

“While these phone calls appear to be random in nature, these scammers seem to be targeting vulnerable members of the Chinese-Australian community,” he said in a statement today.

He added: “NSW Police have been assured from the Chinese Consulate-General in Sydney that no person claiming to be from a Chinese authority such as police, procuratorates or the courts will contact a student on their mobile phone and demand monies to be paid or transferred.”

One young woman told ABC News that she “felt so stupid” after giving out personal details to the crime syndicate.

“Someone just called me up and they pretended to be the Chinese embassy and they were trying to say I was involved in a case in China,” the Victoria-based student said.

The 21-year-old claimed she spoke to four different people over the phone for three hours.

She recalled: “I put trust on them, and all of a sudden it was a scam.

“I feel so stupid and at the same time it was so scary as well.”

Luckily, the Chinese authorities told her mum of the con and she was able to stop any money being defrauded from her daughter.

Police said the criminal organisation is believed to operate off-shore and has been a challenge to trace.