The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (www.ic3.gov) has received reports from hundreds of victims in what’s called the Chinese Embassy Scam. In just a 15-month period, victims reported a total loss of $40 million or an average loss of $164,000 each.
There are several different variations of this scheme… but, typically, it involves the victim receiving a message by phone, text or chat application from someone claiming to be from a Chinese embassy or consulate or Chinese business. The fraudster may claim that the victim’s passport, Social Security card or credit card was found with a suspicious person or in a suspicious package overseas.
The fraudster tells the victims they are under investigation and, in order to assist Chinese law enforcement, they must speak to an investigator.
In another variation of the scam, victims receive messages from people claiming to work for Chinese credit card companies. The victims are told they have overdue balances and must work with Chinese law enforcement to address the outstanding payment.
Either way, the victims end up getting connected with "investigators," who advise victims they must wire funds to resolve the issue. The money almost always is sent to accounts located in China or Hong Kong. The fraudsters may also tell the victims that they can pay by via credit card or virtual currency… or encourage them to take out loans if they don’t have the cash. If the victims do not cooperate, the scam artists threaten them with deportation, loss of assets, and/or jail.
The fraudsters appear to be targeting victims who have names of Asian descent.
Here’s how to protect yourself:
If you receive a call from a number that appears to be from the Chinese embassy or a Chinese credit card company or business, find a publicly available number and call back yourself. Confirm the details of the situation and any requests.
Be cautious if you are asked to keep a situation or matter secret. This is a red flag.
Know that the Chinese government itself has said that it will not contact you by phone for personal information, parcel pick-up, bank account information or to answer questions from Chinese law enforcement officers..
Remember - if you have been victimized by an online scam, you can report your suspicious contacts to the FBI. You can file an online report at the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov or call your FBI local office.