Chinese international student located after ‘virtual kidnapping’

A Chinese international student has been located safe and well by police following a ‘virtual kidnapping’ incident in Sydney earlier this month.

Just before 2am on Tuesday 8 September 2020, an 18-year-old woman was reported missing to officers at Sydney City Police Area Command by friends concerned for her welfare.

Police were told videos and images of the woman, who was being held at an unknown location, had been sent to family members overseas via WeChat.

The videos were followed by demands for money by an individual purporting to be Chinese Police, to ensure the woman’s safe release.

Specialist investigators from the State Crime Command’s Robbery and Serious Crime Squad, together with local detectives, commenced an investigation under Strike Force Jingara.

Officers were also assisted throughout the investigation by police negotiators, officers from the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and Chinese authorities.

Following extensive inquiries, detectives located the woman safe and well at Pyrmont on Tuesday (15 September 2020).

Shortly after, officers attended a unit at Chatswood, where a crime scene was established and subsequently examined by specialist police.

A 22-year-old man was spoken to by police and inquiries into the incident are continuing.

NSW Police Force State Crime Command Director, Detective Chief Superintendent Darren Bennett, said police are urging the community to once again familiarise themselves with these elaborate phone scams.

“Less than two months ago, the NSW Police Force issued a warning to the community about ‘virtual kidnapping’ scams targeting Chinese students studying in Australia,” Det Ch Supt Bennett said.

“It appears these scammers are continuing to operate and are once again preying on the vulnerabilities of individuals in the community who are not in direct physical contact with their families.

“In this incident, police have been told that initial contact was made in July this year after the woman received an email from persons purporting to be Chinese Police and claiming her personal details had been illegally used on a package intercepted overseas.

“Since that time more than $213,000 has been transferred into an offshore account following demands for money – which appears to have evolved into a ‘virtual kidnapping’.

“The individuals behind these ‘virtual kidnapping’ scams continually adapt their scripts and methodology which are designed to take advantage of people’s trust in authorities.

“In one of the images sent to family members, another person can be seen in the room. Police are continuing to conduct inquiries into the role of this man in the incident, or whether the person was also a victim of a similar scam.

“NSW Police have been assured from the Chinese Consulate-General in Sydney that no person claiming to be from a Chinese authority such as police, procuratorates or the courts will contact a student on their mobile phone and demand monies to be paid or transferred. If this occurs, it is a scam.

“The advice for anyone who receives a call involving demands for money under the threat of violence is to hang up, contact the Chinese Consulate in Sydney to verify the claims and report the matter to the NSW Police Force,” Det Ch Supt Bennett said.

Anyone with information relating to incidents of virtual kidnappings should contact Crime Stoppers: 1800 333 000 or https://nsw.crimestoppers.com.au. Information is treated in strict confidence.

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