A scam that ends with people tying themselves up in a hotel room and sending photos of it to their family? Outlandish but true, say Australian police, who are warning Chinese students in Sydney of a surge of "virtual kidnapping" cases in the country. Police say they have this year logged eight such incidents that have reaped $2.3 million. The New York Times explains the gist of the scam: A student receives a call from a Mandarin-speaking messenger service looking to deliver a package and needing an address. The student then receives a second call from someone purporting to be from the Chinese government who says the package contains illegal items or is linked to some other crime—and the student must pay or face arrest or deportation. In some cases, the student is told to break off contact with their relatives, book a hotel room, go to it and bind themselves there, and take photos or video.
That footage is then sent home to get relatives to pay. The BBC reports that in one case, a father who believed his daughter had been taken paid $1.43 million before receiving a video that showed her bound and gagged. After receiving the video, he went to police, who found her within an hour in a Sydney hotel room. The Times shares another such incident, of a family who deposited a six-figure ransom into an offshore bank account after a video showed their 21-year-old daughter, whom they hadn't heard from in days, appear to be in pain. She too was found unharmed in a hotel room. If it sounds wild that someone would fall for the scam, one New South Wales police official tells Reuters the scams are "very polished"; the scammers have reportedly been able to make the number they are calling from appear to be an embassy line. (Read more kidnapping stories.)