The phone scam so elaborate it’s tricking Australians out of millions

The Australian Federal Police is warning the public about an elaborate new scam that has duped Australians out of millions of dollars. 

It starts with a phone call in Mandarin, telling the potential victims they either have a parcel to collect, or that it is someone from the Chinese Embassy calling. 

Targeting Chinese-Australians, the caller transfers victims to someone else who convinces them their credit card or money has been used in a crime, or they’re embroiled in other fraudulent activity back home. 

Making the scam appear real, the phone numbers are masked so it appears the scammer is calling for an official channel. The caller will even encourage sceptical victims to search the number of the embassy or police station they claim to be from to appear legitimate. 

Shockingly, some people have even been convinced to stage their own kidnappings under instruction from the scammers to exhort money from their family. 

But then once the money is sent there's no more contact, numbers go dead and emails go unanswered. 

The AFP knows of 54 victims who have lost more than $5 million collectively. But state police have data which suggests the number is even higher. 

Sydney businesswoman Wendy* told 9News how she had received a terrifying call in May claiming she was embroiled in an international money laundering operation. 

“They transferred me to China, to a police station in Shanghai, and they said I sold my bank account to a criminal,” Wendy told the publication. 

The scammers had used personal details to convince her of their legitimacy. They had even threatened the property she owns in Australia, saying it could be in jeopardy if she did not comply. 

“They said I have to … to clear myself, they led me through all of these tricks,” she said. 

“They sent me a photocopy of what to me looks like official documents from Chinese government… showed me all these documents that looked official. 

“They said if I did not cooperate with them they will work with the federal government and police here to arrest me. 

Wendy was told if she didn’t believe them to look up the phone number to check its authenticity. 

“I just didn’t realise they could use something to change the number… I didn’t know that,” she said. 

Wendy was scammed out of about $100,000 via Australian and Chinese currency when suddenly the calls stopped. She then realised she had fell victim of a scam. 

“I am in big debt now, half of the money is loaned and lots of money I borrowed from my family,” she said. 

“I thought I wouldn’t be that stupid, I just want to clear myself because I didn’t do anything wrong so I just approved everything so eventually it would be okay. 

Wendy, who has been running a business in Australia for more than 30 years, shared her story so others would hopefully not be duped like her. 

“I just want to let smart people know – never send any money to anybody no matter what they say,” she said. 

It may seem unbelievable that anyone could wire so much money to a stranger over the phone, but identity security counsellor at ID Care, Suli Malet-Warden said the scam is successful because it hits at something primal. 

“The person is wired to respond in fight or flight, turning on the limbic brain, turning off their pre-frontal cortex - rational part of the brain, the planning part, the part that would say to us 'huh that sounds really weird,'” Malet-Warden told 9News. 

“This is really good for the criminal... what this does is push us to a really primal state. 

“I've had people say they were scammed over a matter of days and in some cases staging their own kidnappings in order to get family to send money.” 

Malet-Warden said victims are terrified to the point of being in an “almost hypnotic state”, and they don’t tell anyone because they are petrified.

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