A phone scam is nabbing millions of dollars from the U.S. Chinese community

Phone scammers purporting to be from a Chinese consulate office are tricking people in the U.S. into handing over huge sums of money.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said the Chinese-language calls appear to be going to “people with Chinese last names.” Those outside the apparent target group may be unaffected by the racket, but the FTC warned everyone to be vigilant as “scammers’ tactics can change quickly.”

The commission said that people across the U.S. have been reporting the calls, which appear to deploy a range of tactics in a bid to trick the recipient. Some begin with an instruction to pick up a package at a nearby Chinese consular office, while others ask for information “to avoid being in trouble with the Chinese consulate,” the FTC said. The scammer could also trick the person into thinking they’re in some kind of trouble and could face arrest if they travel to China. At some point, the caller will ask for personal details such as bank or credit card information, or for a bank transfer to be made.

And the ruse is clearly working. Since December, 21 members of New York City’s Chinese community have lost a total of $2.5 million, according to the New York Police Department, with individuals reporting losses ranging from $1,800 to $1.4 million, according to Voices of NY. Some have lost their life savings.

The caller IDs appear to indicate that the calls are coming from a local number, but investigators say it’s actually coming from a location in China.
The FTC reminded people never to send money to anyone who asks you to do so over the phone.

“Never give your Social Security number, your bank or credit card number, or other sensitive information to anyone who calls and asks for it,” the commission said. “Same thing if they email or message you through a social media platform such as WeChat: just don’t respond. That’s a scam. And neither the real Chinese consulates, nor the Chinese Embassy, will ever call you to ask for money.”

The FTC told recipients of such scam calls to act decisively: “If you get a call or message like this, hang up or delete it, and then tell the FTC. If you have business with the real Chinese consulate and you’re worried, contact the real Chinese Consulate by looking up your local office’s number. But, whatever you do, don’t give out your information — or your money — to anyone who contacts you out of the blue.”

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