Our work to combat virtual kidnappings

In early 2023, law enforcement agencies reported that virtual kidnapping scams were increasingly impacting Chinese speaking university students across Australia.

Virtual kidnappings are a form of technology-enabled scam that involves scammers:

  • often impersonating a Chinese military or government official
  • convincing victims they have been implicated in a crime
  • demanding large payments from victims under the threat of being deported or arrested.

When the victim can’t pay the sum of money, they are forced to fake their own kidnapping, so the scammers can demand a ransom from their family for their safe return. Some students have been scammed out of close to $500,000, and left severely traumatised.

Collaboration between AUSTRAC, state policing agencies, industry and universities have recently increased to prevent students falling victim to further virtual kidnapping scams. AUSTRAC analysis helped with the development of financial indicators and methodologies used by the scammers. This information was shared with government, law enforcement and financial organisations to aid in the detection and disruption of virtual kidnappings. AUSTRAC has informed the New South Wales Police of a number of potential victims. This information has led the police to conduct welfare checks and intervene to prevent further funds from being sent to the scammers.

AUSTRAC continues working closely with its domestic and international partners through the provision of intelligence and specialist products to assist with identifying, reporting and disrupting further virtual kidnapping scams from occurring.

For more information on virtual kidnappings, see the NSW Governments’ Scam Alert! Virtual Kidnappings poster.

How can I help stop crimes like this?

Reporting entities have an important role to play in helping us stop financial crime in its tracks – including virtual kidnappings. If you identify any suspicious activity, please consider submitting a suspicious matter report to AUSTRAC. With your help, we can strengthen Australia’s financial system and protect our community from these types of crime.