Illawarra's international students are warned to be on high alert as 'virtual kidnapping' scams target NSW students, with one family losing $288,000.
Three incidents have been reported to police during the past two weeks, with officers issuing a statewide warning to all international students.
The complex crime usually starts when scammers, who often speak in Mandarin, call the victim to advise they've been implicated in a crime, had their identity stolen or a demand for money is issued to avoid arrest or deportation.
Often they claim to be a representative from a Chinese authority, such as the Chinese Embassy, Consulate or Police.
"The victim is then threatened or coerced into transferring large amounts of money into unknown offshore bank accounts," a police spokesperson said.
"In some instances, victims are convinced to fake their own kidnappings - known as a virtual kidnapping."
Victims are told to cease contact with their family and friends, rent a hotel room and take photographs or video recordings that depict them bound and blindfolded. These files are then shared with the victim's relatives overseas.
When the victim's parents are unable to establish contact with their child in Australia, they send large ransom payments in exchange for their 'release'.
One family paid $288,000 to scammers to secure the release of their 23-year-old daughter, who was later found by police in Sydney.
The family of a 23-year-old Zetland student almost lost $500,000 to scammers, with the family of a 20-year-old student told to pay $220,000.
Illawarra's international students are easy prey to scammers, Asian International Students of Australia (AISA) vice president Navneet Mittal said.
More than 5800 international students across Australia are part of the Wollongong-based AISA group, and while none have reported a virtual kidnapping scam, Mr Mittal said they're falling victim to other scams.
As soon as international students get a new SIM card for their phone, he said many report being targeted by scammers.
"As soon as you get a new phone you get the ATO [Australians Taxation Office] calling, police calling, Amazing calling and threats from immigration," he said. "Amazon is a very, very common scam.
"I send a very strong message every time the ATO and police will never call you ... I tell people to use their common sense."
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