New Zealand police is warning the Chinese community about a virtual kidnapping scam after police were made aware of a case in Auckland.
In the scam, foreign students are asked to fake their own abduction and trick friends and families overseas into paying ransoms.
Detective senior sergeant Bridget Doell said police are making inquiries into a report, made last Friday, where a person is believed to have unknowingly participated in a fake kidnapping fraud scam.
"Police are aware of this type of scam occurring overseas and it has previously been reported in New Zealand," Doell said.
In Australia last month, New South Wales police said eight such incidents involving a total payout of A$3.2 million ($3.4m) were reported this year.
Scammers call the intended victims pretending to be Chinese officials warning them they are being implicated in a crime in China.
In order to avoid being arrested, deported or legal action, the victims must pay a fee.
Victims are then asked to sever all contact with friends and family for a few days, rent a hotel room and take pictures or video recordings of themselves blindfolded and bound.
These images and footage are then sent to their family and friends overseas, usually through WeChat, to exert pressure into paying the ransom.
"Police are asking the community to be warned and remain vigilant to this kind of scam," Doell said.
"Police takes these scams seriously and we will not tolerate fraudulent activity targeting our community."
In Australia, victims' parents in China reportedly sent large ransom payments when they are unable to establish contact with their children in exchange for their "release".
The ransom payments had ranged between A$20,000 to A$500,000 and in one case A$2 million had been paid, police there said.
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An international student caregiver here, who did not want to be named, said the border closures have made overseas parents an "easy targets".
"The scammers know that their parents can't just hop on the next flight and get to New Zealand to check on their kids because of Covid restrictions," she said.
"They capitalise on parents' anxiety of being separated from their children during the pandemic, and it makes them easy targets for scammers."
Doell said people should not answer the phone or respond to WeChat messages if they did not know the person or suspect they could be a scammer.
"Do not follow and participate in any instructions from unknown people or scammers for whatever reason. Stop and think. Hang up and immediately report to your family and local police," she said.
Doell also advised against providing personal details, such as date of birth, password, bank details or phone numbers to any person or institution on the phone or on social media.
"No Government agencies will ever ask you for these details via phone or WeChat," Doell added.
China is the biggest source country for international students to New Zealand, but since the border closures, there are now about 13,000 Chinese study visa holders here.