WA’s consumer watchdog has warned members of the state's Chinese community to be wary of a phone scam where callers claim to be officials checking visa applications or investigating money laundering.
Consumer Protection sounded the warning after receiving several reports of the scam, which has already seen individual losses reaching $100,000.
Callers claim to be from the Chinese embassy or consulate, and say they are checking visa applications, investigating packages with fraudulent documents or looking into money laundering.
Consumer Protection commissioner David Hillyard said the calls targeted Australian numbers at random, but victims heard someone speaking Mandarin when answering the phone.
WA Police forwarded a report to Consumer Protection of a victim who lost about $100,000 to a similar scam, while the watchdog has also received separate cases of victims losing $24,000 and $43,000.
“In incidents reported to WA ScamNet, those who responded to the calls or voicemails were told that the caller was from the Chinese embassy or consulate, and then they were supposedly put through to the ‘International Criminal Police Organisation’ in China or the Chinese police,” Mr Hillyard said.
“Personal details, including passport information, were then requested before the victim was told their identity has been misused in a criminal case.
“This then led to a request for funds so the police could carry out a financial check to prove their innocence and avoid serious trouble, with the victims told the money would be returned once the process was complete.”
Don’t fall for their threats. Hang up the phone and report it to your local police and our WA ScamNet team.Consumer Protection commissioner David Hillyard
National variations of the scam included extortion through faked kidnappings or claims that authorities were investigating a package with fraudulent documents.
And the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Scamwatch service has received nearly 1700 reports about similar scams in 2018, with reported national losses totalling $1.15 million.
“The reports we’ve received in WA have been about the visa version of the scam rather than the nastier kidnapping variation targeting Chinese students, but if you’re ever called by someone making threats about arrest or deportation, then it is definitely a scam,” Mr Hillyard said.
“Don’t fall for their threats. Hang up the phone and report it to your local police and our WA ScamNet team. If you think the scammer has your bank account details, then contact your bank immediately.”
For further information or to report a scam call 1300 30 40 54.