International students studying in Australia targeted in virtual kidnapping scam

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International students in Australia have fallen victim to a virtual kidnapping scam that has resulted in families losing hundreds of thousands of dollars to the scammers.

Four cases of virtual kidnapping have been reported in Perth since August last year and police said the scam was on the rise.

Those affected were between 18 and 22 years old. They were ordered to pay fines of up to US$215,000 or face extradition to their country of origin to face criminal prosecution.

Victims were offered the opportunity to pay the scammers a fee to protect themselves from possible prison time and to speed up the process.

During the negotiations, the fraudsters advised the victim to plan an extortion attempt directed against the parents.

As the situation escalated, the students were forced to fake their own kidnapping. The images were then sent to their families and used to demand a ransom for their safe release.

Detective Superintendent Peter Foley said the victims had suffered severe financial and psychological damage as a result of the ordeal.

“The most vulnerable victims of crime are young international students who have probably left their families for the first time and are now alone in a foreign country,” he said.

“The fraudsters exploit the victims’ vulnerabilities and the distance between them and their families.

“It is virtually impossible for families to be assured that the victim is indeed safe and well and that no charges have been brought against them by foreign authorities.”

The scammers typically pretended to be connected to a crime and used information about the victim, either from social media or other sources, and forged documents to legitimize the scam.

The scammers took advantage of people’s trust in authorities and their fear of getting into trouble.

“Feelings of helplessness and shame prevent victims from contacting the police after they have been scammed,” said Detective Superintendent Foley.

“Our statistics probably do not paint a complete picture and there could be more victims.

“We encourage all victims to come forward. It is not their fault and there is help.”

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