Securing Our Communities: Chinese Phone Scams

Each week, the NTIC Cyber Center highlights a different social engineering scam impacting individuals and communities within the National Capital Region. We encourage everyone to share this information with friends, colleagues, and loved ones to help reduce their risk of becoming a victim of financial fraud and identity theft.

Chinese phone scams are automated telephone calls that spoof official Chinese embassy or consular communications to extort money from Chinese speakers. Criminals direct these calls to phone customers with Chinese last names and to random people in locations with large populations of Mandarin speakers. Although these scammers are frequently located in China, their calls target people all over the world.

In one iteration of this scam, call recipients hear a pre-recorded message in Mandarin warning that they are in trouble with Chinese officials or the police. If the call recipient follows the ensuing prompts, the call connects to a scammer masquerading as a law enforcement or immigration official who threatens legal action or deportation if a victim doesn’t remit payment or disclose personal or financial information.

Another version of the scam includes a message indicating a document or package awaits the call recipient at a Chinese embassy or consulate office. When the call connects to a live person, he or she demands credit card or banking information to pay for a deposit to hold the item or a fee to deliver it. Unfortunately, no such document or package exists; perpetrators use this lure to collect payments for services they never render.

In each case, these scams are designed to steal money from Mandarin-speaking victims. To lend credence to the scam, perpetrators may spoof caller-ID information so that calls appear as if they originate from numbers associated with Chinese embassies or consulate offices.

The NTIC Cyber Center recommends sharing the following guidance with those who may be vulnerable to these scams:

  • Chinese embassies, consulates, and immigration officials indicate that they never place calls demanding payment be made over the telephone.

  • Beware of urgent requests for action or payment, especially if a caller requests wire transfers, gift cards, or cash.

  • If possible, refrain from answering phone calls from unknown numbers. Answering a scam call or following automated prompts, even if you do not engage the caller in conversation, may indicate to the scammer that your phone number is active, potentially increasing the volume of scam calls you receive in the future.

  • If you do accidentally answer a scam call, do not answer any questions or provide any personal or financial information to the caller. Hang up immediately and block the number on your phone, if possible.

  • If the caller leaves a voicemail that you believe is legitimate (e.g. originating from an embassy or consulate office), try to verify the originating number by looking it up online on the office’s website. Additionally, you can use the Internet to locate a main telephone number for the office to confirm the authenticity of the call.

  • Contact your telephone service or mobile phone provider for more information on call-blocking tools. If you decide to use a call-blocking mobile application, make sure to download it from a trusted provider and read user reviews before installing it onto your device.

  • Consider registering your phone number with the Federal Do Not Call List.

If you believe you may be a victim of this or a similar scam, contact local law enforcement and report the call to the Federal Trade Commission’s FTC Complaint Assistant. The FTC provides a warning about this phone scam in Simplified Chinese, here.

The NTIC is governed by a privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties protection policy to promote conduct that complies with applicable federal, state, and local laws. The NTIC does not seek or retain any information about individuals or organizations solely on the basis of their religious, political or social views or activities; their participation in a particular noncriminal organization or lawful event; or their race, ethnicities, citizenships, places of origin, ages, disabilities, genders, or sexual orientations. No information is gathered or collected by the NTIC in violation of federal or state laws or regulations.