By Jessica Lionnel
Chinese students are being targeted by scammers who are attempting to swindle them out of thousands of pounds.
Last week South Yorkshire Police issued a stark warning about the increase in fraudulent calls, many of which have a sinister undertone.
The con artists pretend to be from official Chinese organisations demanding money to be transferred or face being extradited.
For some students, the warning came a little too late.
One victim was told she was responsible for the death of two elderly women and was ordered to transfer £1,700.
Alice and Jake*, two Chinese students studying at The University of Sheffield, tell Sheffield Wire their stories.
When I heard that two women had died because of me, I was really shocked – Alice
Alice, 24, was woken by a call in February this year from someone claiming to be from The Chinese Embassy. He told her he had obtained her contact details after finding her bank card on an airport floor.
She explained: “He said I was involved in a money washing case and as a result two elderly women had died. He was adamant the women paid for my investment, but they did not get their money back and they had committed suicide because of me.”
The fraudster then told Alice there was a warrant out for her arrest and stressed it would only be cleared if she paid 10,000 Chinese Yuan (equivalent to £1,178) for bail. If she did not cooperate with them and pay, they threatened she would be extradited back to China.
They also told her not to communicate this with friends and family and to buy a new phone and sim card to contact them only.
“I felt really scared because it has never happened to me before. I didn’t do anything but I got involved in such a big case. When I heard that two women had died because of me, I was really shocked,” Alice recalls.
Three days after the call, Alice asked her parents for the money. Her father agreed to transfer it immediately. She called the number which had rang her back, but the number was not recognised.
It was then she realised it was a scam, but the psychological damage had already been done.
Alice revealed: “I didn’t go to class for three days. I didn’t talk to my friends for three days. I didn’t talk to my parents for three days. I cried for three days”
Alice said she still receives calls from the number, but now ignores them.
I think the liars, the criminals, are smart because they didn’t give me the time to consider whether it was fraud – Jake
On October 18, Jake was about to go to his university class when he received a phone call saying he had a parcel in the Chinese Embassy.
The convincing caller explained it was an important document and if he wanted further details, to speak to an officer in the embassy. After making the call, Jake was told he was a victim of a credit card theft but the police had caught the man who had stolen it. He said Jake was required to go back to China to assist in the investigation at his own cost.
“It was then I realised this was a scam,” said Jake
“Gradually I lost my patience so I hung up and blocked the number.
“I think the liars, the criminals, are smart because they didn’t give me the time to consider whether it was fraud and they didn’t allow me to call the police to check.
“It was scary but could have been potentially worse.”
Fortunately, Jake and Alice didn’t have their money stolen. However, the psychological trauma of the phone calls has stayed with them.
When fraudsters target them in this way, it can leave them really distressed – Police
In an official statement, South Yorkshire Police identified fraudsters are pretending to work for one of four organisations: The Chinese Embassy, Immigration or Customs Services, The Chinese Police, or The Royal Mail.
Con artists threaten Chinese students who have just moved to the UK into giving them large sums of money and that they might have access to the students’ personal information, making their ability to deceive students into thinking they are from an official organization easier.
A spokesperson for South Yorkshire Police, said: “For the Chinese community in particular something like this can be really frightening for them. They have potentially come to a foreign country for the first time and they are away from home for the first time at university.
“When fraudsters target them in this way, it can leave them really distressed and other times they’ve been really shocked and upset about what’s happened to them. The impact that their (the fraudsters) crimes have on these victims is literally leaving people in a really frightened and terrified state.”
When queried as to why Chinese students were being targeted, police explained they are not used to the level of scam calls that British residents are used to.
The spokesperson added: “They may be more susceptible to taking that at first instance and unfortunately falling victim to this horrendous type of crime.”
A national problem?
The problem is not just isolated to Sheffield: universities across the UK have alerted their Chinese students of the crime too. This should not come as a surprise, as Chinese undergraduates and postgraduates make up for the majority of international students in the UK. Approximately 140,000 were enrolled in 2019/2020.
Warwick and Liverpool University have advised the students to not give out their personal information or money.
The University of Sheffield said they were concerned about the emerging scam and added they were working with South Yorkshire Police to prevent it from happening again.
Police have urged victims of the scam to contact Action Fraud by calling 0300 123 2040 or online at actionfraud.police.uk.
But for victims Alice and Jake the emotional damage has already been done.
*Their names have been changed to protect their identities.