Fraudsters target Chinese students in Australia

‘Threatening’ incidents from within Chinese community reveal another side of Beijing’s charges of discrimination

June 22, 2020
Chinese students at university
Source: iStock

Chinese students are reporting an alarming upsurge in fraud and intimidation, much of it apparently perpetrated by their countryfolk, in an illustration of the sometimes harrowing challenges of overseas study.

Hoaxers impersonating Chinese authorities cheated Australia’s Chinese community of more than A$5.9 million (£3.3 million) over the first 23 weeks of this year – about four times the A$1.5 million such scams netted over the first nine months of 2019 – according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

Some 2,150 of these incidents have been reported to the ACCC’s “Scamwatch” service this year compared with about 900 in 2019, with students frequently targeted. Many involved threats to cancel visas.

The service has also received 25 reports of “university fee discount scams” which netted the perpetrators more than A$65,000. “[They] generally involve cold-callers impersonating various and unrelated businesses such as ‘You compare’ and ‘Bulk buy discounts’, and claiming to offer discounted utility bills and student fees if payment is made directly to the service,” an ACCC spokeswoman said.

The reports provide a counterpoint to Beijing’s complaints of an escalation in “discriminatory incidents” against Chinese students in Australia, with students advised to avoid Australia for their own safety.

Australian authorities say the scams have been around for years, are not confined to Australia and are communicated in Mandarin – suggesting that they originate from the Chinese community.

Victoria Police said it received many reports of various types of swindles within the state and across Australia. “These scams can be aggressive and elaborate, and we understand the callers can be quite threatening, leaving victims feeling frightened and intimidated,” a spokesman said.

“Most…victims are overseas students and while it is not unique to the Chinese community, a large proportion of victims are from China.”

Monash University said student groups were being targeted in “an ongoing global scam that has now been around for a few years and is not isolated to Australia”.

“There are variations of the scam, but generally it involves a person making false claims and requesting funds are transferred into a bank account.” 

RMIT University said its students were “unfortunately targeted from time to time by unscrupulous operators. While matters like this are not unique to RMIT, we work extremely hard to educate our students about the importance of staying safe online and protecting their personal information.”

The universities said they warned students and stressed that their support teams were available to help when they became aware of new scams. Government agencies urged people to report fraud and avoid handing over bank account details.

“Don’t be pressured by a threatening caller,” the ACCC cautioned. “Stop, think and check whether their story is true.”

Last year, the ACCC warned Australia’s Chinese community about “authority impersonation scams” where perpetrators, speaking in Mandarin, claimed to have intercepted packages of false passports or other fraudulent documents mailed to the victims.

The targets were told they would be extradited to China to face criminal charges unless they sent money to bankroll investigations that would prove their innocence.

Scamwatch warned of a “cruel variation” targeting Chinese students, who were persuaded that they would face criminal sanctions unless they pretended that they had been kidnapped. Using this ruse, the fraudsters obtained photographs of the students bound and gagged and used them to extort money from family members in China.

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