A sophisticated threat targeting Chinese people in Australia has netted criminals $6.5 million, with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) warning the intimidating phone-based scams have increased dramatically this year.

The ACCC’s ScamWatch service says it has received more than 18,000 reports so far of threat-based scams, up 40 per cent from the entire of 2019.

These scams target Mandarin-speakers in Australian and impersonate authorities such as the Chinese embassy, police or other government official, ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.

“Threat based scams disproportionately impact people with English as a second language, including foreign students, who may not fully understand Australian law,” Ms Rickard said.

“Victims will often provide personal information to scammers, as they believe they are dealing with a government agency, and this can lead to identity theft or falling victim to further scams.”

Scammers rely on robo-calls to frighten potential victims.

The calls say the person is under investigation by the authorities and they must press ‘1’ to speak to an investigator.

“Government departments will never send pre-recorded messages to your phone or threaten you with immediate arrest,” Ms Rickard said.

“If you’re not sure whether a call is legitimate, hang up and call the organisation directly by finding their details through an independent search.”

“Never send money or give credit card details or personal information to anyone you don’t know or trust and never by email or over the phone.”

Under 24s lose millions

Young people were also susceptible to such scams with people aged 24 reporting losses of more than $4.1m, with females three times more likely to be scammed.

“It is extremely concerning that young people are being so severely emotionally and financially impacted by threat based scams,” Rickard said.

“These losses can be devastating and they can also lead to a loss of trust in authority, meaning victims of threat based scams may be less likely to seek help or advice from legitimate agencies in the future.”