A new robocall scam that began in New York City is growing in scope and scale, as reports from the Patriot Ledger suggest that members of the Chinese community in Massachusetts are fielding hundreds of scam calls from fake government officials.
Posing as Chinese police officers or Consulate officials, scam artists have inundated Chinese residents of New York and Massachusetts with fraudulent phone calls, threatening law enforcement action if the recipient doesn’t fork over their savings.
Chinese Consulate Robocall Scam Claims More Victims
The con artists ask for personal information: credit card numbers, social security numbers and bank account access. In exchange, the callers say, they’ll make an international arrest warrant “disappear.” In reality, that international arrest warrant doesn’t exist and the callers aren’t officials of the Chinese government. They’re just scammers trying to steal a buck.
But that hasn’t stopped their scheme from working in a big way. While there’s no way to tell how many call recipients are taken in by the scam, several anecdotes are pretty scary. The most recent comes from Cambridge, Massachusetts, home of Harvard University, where one woman was tricked into wiring $95,000 to Hong Kong.
Woman Sends $95,000 To Hong Kong Con Artists
The scammers had sent her fake documents, using her photograph and personal identifying information, to “prove” that she was the subject of an arrest warrant issued by the Chinese government. So she sent the money, but since she did so on the weekend, Cambridge police were able to have the receiving bank account frozen over the weekend.
Working with officials in Hong Kong, the money was transferred back to its rightful owner soon after. “If she had waited until Monday to tell us,” Jeremy Warnick, a spokesman for the Cambridge Police said, “her money would have been lost.”
Victim Loses $17,000
Other victims haven’t been so lucky. In the tony town of Lexington, Massachusetts, a woman wired scammers over $17,000 to avoid non-existent jail time in China. Just two days earlier, another person in Lexington had provided a con artist posing as the Chinese police with passport information before realizing it was a scam and calling the authorities.
Legitimate Institutions Don’t Ask You To Wire Money
“Recently, there are several similar instances of scams targeting the Chinese-American population,” according to a Lexington Police press release, which is translated into Mandarin. “Some of them said that they represented the Chinese government or the police, and others said they were from the US Immigration Bureau.”
Many of the scam artists already know some personal information, which might fool recipients into believing that the calls are legitimate. Police believe the information is simply culled from the internet. “Formal institutions,” the Lexington Police continue, “will not require people to wire money.”
Washington, D.C., San Francisco Report Similar Targeting
Warnick, the Cambridge Police spokesman, says many of the calls are coming from East Asia. For obvious reasons, they are difficult to track. Similar scams have been reported in Washington, D.C., where con artists are using the the popular Chinese social media and payment app WeChat to defraud Chinese students studying in America.
In New York, at least 30 victims have tricked out of $3 million. And San Francisco, with America’s third-largest Chinese population (largest by percentage), has been hit particularly hard.