Chinese students in Australia are being coerced by criminal gangs to fake their own kidnappings as part of an elaborate global extortion racket targeting vulnerable overseas communities, authorities said Monday.
Eight students in the state of New South Wales (NSW) were targeted in “virtual kidnapping” scams this year, with overseas relatives paying a total of 3.2 million Australian dollars ($2.3 million) in ransom, police said in a statement.
In one case, the father of a 22-year-old Chinese student in Sydney handed over a more than $1.4 million after being sent a video of his daughter bound in an unknown location.
Another family in China paid more than $14,000 after receiving a video of their 22-year-old relative bound and blindfolded via the messaging app WeChat. She was found by NSW police safe in a hotel room.
The student victims are left “traumatized by what has occurred, believing they have placed themselves, and their loved ones, in real danger,” said NSW Assistant Commissioner Peter Thurtell in a statement.
The NSW police said that scammers were targeting vulnerable members of the Chinese-Australian community, such as international students living away from friends and family in an unfamiliar environment.