According to a press conference held by the Ministry of Public Security, China has broken up 391,000 cases of telecom fraud by the end of November 2022. However, due to the government’s crackdown on telecom fraud within the country, many fraud rings have shifted their focus overseas and are luring “gold seekers” with various advertisements, such as high-paying job offers in northern Myanmar. As a result, these fraudsters have expanded their targets from locals to overseas Chinese.
Recently, a Chinese international student, A, studying in the United States fell victim to such a scam and became an “international money laundering suspect” without any justifiable reason. A was required to pay a bail of one million yuan ($155,000) to clear his name. We hope to share this experience with more international students and their families to prevent them from falling prey to similar scams.
I Became an International Money Laundering Suspect?
A poor guy named A in the United States is a student studying for a master’s degree in film locally. According to his own description, he has been living in the United States for many years and is not very familiar with some domestic laws, which resulted in him being scammed for several days while in a state of half-belief and half-doubt, and even monitored by fraudsters.
The cause was that A received a confirmation email from a local telecom company in his mailbox. The next day, he received a call from a Chinese customer service representative claiming to be from the same telecom company. The customer service representative claimed that A had applied for a phone card in a certain location in Beijing and used it to send fraudulent messages, which could affect his future US mobile phone number and credit issues. Since A did not apply for this, he denied it.
At this point, the customer service representative said that he would help transfer the case to the Beijing police and start an investigation. A agreed, but about 10 seconds later, the “police” connected to the phone. Because the connection was too fast, A became suspicious.
Next came the so-called “police” introduction, including their branch and their badge number. According to reports, this was a police officer named Chen with a Guangdong accent who was working in the Front Gate Police Station in Beijing. After confirming A’s identity, he said that he would make a Skype video call and asked A to be in a quiet and private environment. Then “Officer Chen” made a video call.
A stated that he was from Beijing and could bring his family to the police station in person at any time, but the other party refused and “kindly insisted” on making a statement online for him. Adhering to the principle of not bothering his parents, A agreed, but remained half-believing.
At this point, the climax of the plot arrived. An older “officer” came in and asked the Guangdong-accented policeman if he knew xxx (A’s name). Oh, coincidentally, A was on the phone opposite him! Then the old police officer became excited and solemnly told A that he was involved in a large-scale international money laundering case involving three countries, China, the United States, and Vietnam. The amount involved was as high as 700 million RMB (yes, only 100 million US dollars were laundered in a large international money laundering case, which feels inadequate). This matter is highly valued domestically, and even the two sessions have directly issued orders to take it down. Since they are about to make arrests, only they can help A prove his innocence, so they ask A to cooperate with them, otherwise, he will become a scapegoat.
Actually, by this time, A already believed that it was probably a scam, but due to the suddenness of the matter and his professional disease of pursuing excitement as a film student, and some genuine concerns about the situation, A decided to comply with them. They described their plan to catch the criminals in detail to A, and gave A a code name “Eagle”. And they told A that they only told him everything, so if the arrest failed, it could only be him who leaked it. So, they told A that he could not be arrested (there is no extradition treaty between China and the United States), but he needed to report his movements to the organization every two hours.
So, for the next two weeks, A treated them better than his girlfriend every day. During this period, the two police officers were also very enthusiastic…
After laying such a big trap beforehand, the organization finally told A that he could be released on bail for 1 million RMB. Otherwise, he would be imprisoned in the United States just like Meng Wanzhou, and would also face issues such as racial discrimination and bullying. A listened and then played tough with them, saying that he had no money and no life, and as a film director himself, he could experience life in a US prison and even become bros with black people.
This time, the organization fell silent, stopped tracking A’s movements, and a few days later, announced that they had obtained a bail of 50,000 RMB. However, it was obvious that A could not afford it, so the matter ended there.
Unbelievable Coincidence or Elaborate Scam?
After reading this story, some may find it quite amusing, thinking how could such a coincidence happen? Reporting a crime only to find out that you might become the scapegoat of an international manhunt? Even a movie wouldn’t be able to script something like this. (A jokingly mentioned turning the story into a movie script and adding the subtitle “based on a true story”.)
However, when we reflect on the story, we realize that the logic of “you become the scapegoat, and we prove your innocence” doesn’t make sense. If the evidence is concrete, then you are a prime suspect and the police will come and arrest you directly. If the evidence is insufficient, then you are not a suspect, and they won’t bother with you. Therefore, there is no such thing as a “scapegoat”.
But the scammers know how to exploit people’s confusion and gradually manipulate their minds, eventually swindling their money. Interestingly, my own experience in Hong Kong was similar to this fraud case.
“Hong Kong Adventure: Possessed by Sherlock Holmes”
I experienced an unusual incident during my trip to Hong Kong in March 2023. One morning, I received an automated call from the “Hong Kong Communications Authority” informing me that my phone would soon be suspended and asking me to transfer to a customer service representative.
After transferring, a Mr. Lei from the “Hong Kong Communications Bureau” claimed that I had sent a false message from my Shanghai phone number stating that “entry quarantine would restart” in Hong Kong. He told me that this had caused me to be unable to use any phone card in Hong Kong in the future and provided me with a criminal case number. He then transferred me to the Shanghai police on my behalf.
Although I could have reported the incident to the Shanghai police myself, I needed a phone card during my stay in Hong Kong, so I fell into their trap.
A Shanghai police officer with a Fujian accent quickly answered the phone and told me they would file a case on my behalf. They instructed me to go to the official website of the Pudong Police Station on my computer and find the real phone number, and told me that they would call me using their police station number.
Shortly after, my phone received a call that matched the official website’s number, but my anti-fraud system warned me that it was a “suspicious spam call.” This raised my suspicion, but the police officer said it might be because I was using a public phone in Hong Kong, so I didn’t think too much about it.
Later, the police asked me to do a video recording on WhatsApp. I was surprised because I thought WhatsApp was not allowed for official use in China. Nonetheless, I followed their instructions and did a 360-degree video of my surroundings to make sure no one was around me.
At this point, I noticed that the walls of the interrogation room seemed to be made of paper and were wrinkled. I suddenly remembered a news story I had read before about a “genius” who had opened a fake Construction Bank in Shandong, so I asked the police officer if I could see the interrogation room. The Fujian police officer from Shanghai became angry, saying that he was trying to help me but I was causing him trouble. He threatened to quit, but after apologizing several times, he continued.
As the video recording continued, I found everything to be suspicious. For example, the Fujian Shanghai police officer’s badge number was 070007, which seemed too perfect for a small police officer like him. Furthermore, below his badge number, it said “Guangdong” instead of “Shanghai,” which was odd because he claimed to be in charge of Guangdong affairs (although my case was in Hong Kong).
At this point, I became very suspicious that I was being scammed. I decided to search for the police officer’s WeChat account using the WhatsApp phone number. Sure enough, the WeChat account was suspended for violating regulations. I then searched on Google and found similar scam reports. I immediately blocked the WhatsApp police officer.
End of the Story:
I thought the story ended here, but in the afternoon, Mr. Lei called me again. After some quick thinking, I decided to pretend to be a foreigner living in Hong Kong and spoke to him in English. After all, who in Hong Kong doesn’t know English? To my surprise, he didn’t know any English and even asked me in Mandarin if I was xxx. I gave him a piece of my mind in strong English words, but he didn’t understand a word of it and hung up on me.
It’s a coincidence that the police stations where we reported the cases were located in the areas where our families live. So it wasn’t difficult for A and me to go to the police station, and we both believed that it was the right thing to do.
Later, I found out that reporting a telephone scam to the police before the money was actually stolen could not be filed as a case. Therefore, if someone only used my ID to open a phone card to send quarantine information, they probably wouldn’t be prosecuted or have their phone service suspended (they weren’t suspended in this case either). So his scam never even had a chance to succeed.
Review and Anti-fraud Tips
When reviewing a situation and preventing fraud, I thought of a Japanese drama I watched before. The male lead was a “fraudster” who said that a successful scam involved two elements: reality and utility. If both are in place, the scam will succeed.
The so-called reality means how credible the matter is. For example, if your classmate suddenly tells you that he is the illegitimate child of Musk from Asia, and you believe it, then one of you must go to the hospital to check your brains. However, if he produces a birth certificate, a photo with Musk, and then gives you a Tesla car, you may believe it because the utility is in place, and you gain practical benefits from the scam.
Similarly, most phone scams, from the small ones like “I am Liu Dehua, please send money to help me return to Hong Kong and I will give you xxx million,” to the big ones that claim you are an international fugitive, follow this principle. Maybe we did not get direct benefits in our case, but in a sense, they provided us with “convenience,” such as not having to report the case ourselves, or helping to prove our “innocence,” which is a disguised benefit.
So, when encountering any unfamiliar phone call, we should calm down first and do the following:
1.Record all information and verify it with relevant agencies to see if it is true (this step can solve most scams). Various government agencies are independent of each other. To obtain a certificate, you need to go to many places, which is not that simple.
2.Type in the general situation on Google and see if there are similar scams.
3.If the phone system prompts “suspicious junk call,” it is better not to answer it. After receiving a fraudulent call, report it to help others.
4.In any situation, you have the right to inform your relatives and consult a lawyer.
5.If you are really trapped, you can boldly ask the other party questions and make reasonable requests. If it is a real situation, the other party will be responsible for answering you.
6.Finally, remember! Do not believe anything that requires you to transfer money!!!
Finally, when studying abroad, we may encounter various problems, but as long as we stay calm and communicate with people around us, many scams can be resolved. In the end, as long as we have not committed any major illegal activities, we will not encounter situations that are classified as international suspects.