Scam Targeting Chinese Immigrants Swindled $2.5M from NYC Victims

Donald McCaffrey of the NYPD (Photo via Sing Tao Daily)

“I just received the complaint from one more victim this morning,” said Donald McCaffrey, a police officer of the grand larceny squad of the New York Police Department Queens North, said at a press conference on April 10. “Once the money is transferred out, it is hard to get it back.”

The press conference was held to alert the Chinese community about a scam growing in popularity that targets Chinese immigrants in New York. Con artists who pretend to be working for the Chinese government or law enforcement entities such as the consulates or procuratorates [prosecutors] not only contact potential victims via telephone, but also have created authentic-looking websites and official documents to reassure suspecting immigrants. Since December, 21 Chinese immigrants have fallen into the trap, and they lost $2.5 million in total.  

McCaffrey said the ages of the victims range from 24 to 68. Seniors make up a substantial proportion. Most victims live in the territory of the 109th Police Precinct. Others are from Brooklyn and Manhattan. Their individual losses range from $1,800 to $1.4 million. Many of them lost all of their life savings. 

McCaffrey said that based on the complaints of the victims, the predators often pretended to be employees of the Chinese consulates or law enforcement in China. The victims were told that the authorities in China were investigating their tax-related activities overseas. 

They were asked to send money to certain accounts the predators provided and were told the money would be returned immediately when the investigation is over. The bank accounts the predators provided are with many Asian banks such as HSBC and Shanghai Commercial Bank, and they were opened in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and many other cities. 

In addition, the predators sometimes used drug trafficking investigations as an excuse to demand money transactions from the victims. “The predators would tell the victims that if they do not cooperate, they’d be arrested once they go back to China. And some told the victims they’d be deported out of the U.S.,” said McCaffrey.

He said the predators contacted the victims via telephone or email from China. They used an app that can disguise the caller ID with New York local area code 212. But the police found that they were indeed all from phone numbers starting with 86, China’s country code. Also, these were all internet calls that are hard to trace.

The predators also presented to the victims forged official documents from China’s authorities such as Beijing Supreme People’s Procuratorate to reassure them that it’s not a scam. According to the 109th Precinct, a woman from Flushing who is in her 60s said that she received a phone call from someone who said they were calling from the law enforcement of Beijing City. The caller told her that Chinese police arrested a Chinese American who was trying to bring many bank cards into China and was suspected to be involved in money laundering.  

The woman was told a bank card bearing her name was among the cards that were confiscated in the case. The caller asked her to send the money in her account to an account set up by the authorities in order to help the investigation. Just like that, the woman lost $1.4 million. 

Predators also set up fake websites that carry the photo of potential victims together with fake arrest warrants in Chinese. McCaffrey said that they then sent the link to the victims who would often lose their minds when they saw their name and photo on the website. He said the photos on the website look very close to the passport photos of the victims. It is likely that the predators had collected the passport information of the victims via airports or travel agencies in advance.

McCaffrey said the police have contacted their counterparts in China. And one Chinese police station told them that they are aware that criminals in China have been targeting not only Chinese in the U.S. but also Chinese immigrants around the world. So far these criminals have swindled people out of $1 billion. But such criminal activities extend across multiple countries, and it is very difficult to eradicate them. Once the victims lose their money, it is hard to get it back.

McCaffrey said some victims were told by the predators that if they don’t cooperate, the New York police would arrest and deport them. And some victims don’t like to report such cases to the police because of concerns about their immigration status. 

“New York police never ask for your immigration status. We are not allowed. Our job is to protect you and your property, and that includes all New Yorkers.”

3 Comments

  1. This is a big problem to Chinese people. We need to let Chinese people know so that they should pay attention to that.
    Thank you!

  2. Rebecca Liu says:

    I’ve been trying to contact someone about this incident but not sure who to contact. Found this article online just now. I got a call just like this yesterday morning. Talked to them for almost 6 hours. They accused me of being in money laundering and I sent out an illegal package to Beijing? I thought it was serious because the number was from the Public Security of Bureau in Beijing and they stated themselves as the investigator or officer of some sort. I provided my name, date of birth, home address, social security # and Passport # to plead my innocence, because have no idea what they were talking about. I’m literally panicking right now and not sure what to do. Thankfully the bank was closed and I wasn’t able to send any money over but they have all of my personal information! And they were threantening me to take me to China? and put me in jail?

    • Contact your local police. Also, check your credit reports regularly. Now that they have your information, they could open up a bunch of bank or credit card accounts. There is not much you can do about that other than regularly monitoring your credit reports to see if any new accounts pop up.

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