The agency responsible for reporting and investigating scams, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission received 32,200 threat based scams in 2020 with victims losing in excess of AUS$11.8 million.

“Threat based scams tend to disproportionately affect younger people”

“Threat based scams tend to disproportionately affect younger people and those who speak English as a second language, including foreign students. Of these, reporters in the 18-24 age group experienced by far the highest reported losses (over $5.8 million). This trend appears to be continuing into 2021,” said an ACCC spokesperson.

Chinese authority scams are most prevalent. Between January and October 2020 they comprised 74% of all losses to threat based scams.

These scams target Mandarin-speakers in Australia and impersonate authorities such as the Chinese embassy, police or other government officials with a range of claims including evidence that implicates the person in illegal activity or visa issues which will result in arrest or deportation unless money is paid.

Another scam targeting international students is virtual kidnappings where the imposter will accuse their victims, usually students, of criminal activity.

They will threaten the victim and their family with criminal sanctions unless they pretend they have been kidnapped, including by taking photos of themselves bound and gagged. Scammers will then use these photos to extort money from the student’s family by claiming the student has been kidnapped.

In one case in June last year, a Chinese father paid $2 million after he received a video of his Australia-based daughter bound, at an unknown location. Another Chinese family paid $20,000 after they received a video of their 22-year-old daughter bound and blindfolded.

More recently scammers have been using Covid-19 to extort money. They will call unsuspecting victims claiming the Chinese government is tracking all Chinese citizens overseas in relation to Covid-19 and requesting personal information for a Covid-related health check.

This personal information can then be used to steal the victim’s identity or carry out further scams.

“They rely on fear, intimidation and people’s instinct to comply with authority, to scam victims. A key thing to remember is that government departments will never send pre-recorded messages to your phone or threaten you with immediate arrest,” said the spokesperson.

“Don’t be pressured by a threatening caller. Stop, think and check whether their story is true. If you’re not sure whether a call is legitimate, hang up and call the organisation directly by finding their details through an independent search such as a phone book, past bill or online search.”

“Government departments will never send pre-recorded messages to your phone or threaten you with immediate arrest”

Other types of scams students are being warned to look out for are agency scams where people pose as an agent working with a Australian university or institution.

Swindlers will ask for large sums of money in exchange for their services and offer fake academic transcripts. Other method of fraud, include discount scams where students are offered discounts on fees or accommodation requiring students to send large amounts of money to secure them.

There has also been reports of Indian students being targeted with The New York Times recently publishing a story on call centres in Indian operating a range of scams including calling Indian students in Australia whose visas were about to expire and offering to place them in a job in Australia if they paid $800 to take a training course.

The ACCC is working with sector partners to educate international students about how to identify and protect themselves from becoming victims and has published information in a range of languages, which is available on their website.

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