Chinese students in Sydney are being targeted in a kidnapping scam forcing them to pay massive ransoms to fraudsters, Australian police say.
In many cases, blackmailed students were forced to stage their own kidnapping and send video proof to relatives in China to obtain funds.
Eight “virtual kidnappings” have been reported this year, including one where a A$2m (£1.1m;$1.43m) ransom was paid.
Victims had believed they or their loved ones were in danger, police said.
New South Wales (NSW) Police said the scheme had “really increased in frequency throughout 2020” and was operating on an “industrial scale”.
They have urged students to immediately report any threatening calls they receive.
Authorities said the “call centre-type” scam was being operated offshore, which made it difficult to track.
It typically involves a fraudster pretending to be from the Chinese embassy or another authority, ringing victims and informing them that they have been implicated in a crime in China or are facing some other threat.
In some cases, the students are also convinced to cease contact with their family and friends, rent a hotel room and fake a hostage situation to obtain funds from their relatives overseas.