Virtual kidnapping scam
International students should be aware of sophisticated scams designed to get families to pay ransoms on fake kidnapping.
Amber avatar
Written by Amber
Updated over a week ago

A ‘virtual kidnapping’ is a sophisticated extortion scam that involves young victims faking their own kidnappings following phone calls from fraudsters – who then demand ransom payments for their safe release from relatives.

Reports have suggested that the scam occurs in the following way:

  • Initial contact is made through a phone call from someone usually speaking in Mandarin and claiming to be a representative from a Chinese authority, such as the Chinese Embassy, Consulate or Police.

  • The caller then convinces the victim that they have been implicated in a crime in China, or that their identity has been stolen, and that they must pay a fee to avoid legal action, arrest or deportation.

  • The victim is then threatened or coerced into transferring large amounts of money into unknown offshore bank accounts.

  • In some instances, victims are convinced to fake their own kidnappings – known as a ‘virtual kidnapping’.

  • Scammers instruct victims to cease contact with their family and friends, rent a hotel room and take photographs or video recordings that depict them bound and blindfolded. These files are then shared with the victim’s relatives overseas.

  • When the victim’s parents are unable to establish contact with their child in Australia, they send large ransom payments in exchange for their ‘release’.

  • The caller will continue to make threats and ransom demands until they are unable to obtain any further payments, often resulting in the victim’s family making contact with police.

How can I stay safe?

  • Don't answer calls from a number you don't recognise. Be wary of caller ID as these can be faked.

  • Never share any financial or confidential information over the phone.

  • Hang up on anyone claiming to be from your bank or government agency and is asking for personal information. Call your bank or the government agency back if you're not sure.

    • Banks and government agencies will NEVER ask for personal information over the phone.


If you have any questions or need extra support, we're here to help you anytime in any language. Simply start a chat with us via the home screen of the Sonder app to connect to our team of qualified, caring health professionals.

Information sourced from: NSW Police

Image credit: Lindsey LaMont at Unsplash

All content is created and published for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health professional.

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