Robocalls are the worst, but an even sketchier call is back with a vengeance, scamming people out hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The FBI calls it the Chinese Embassy Scam, and it comes in as a call in Chinese claiming to be from the Chinese consulate or embassy. Other versions of the scam come from a shipping company about a package waiting for them at the embassy. Worse is that this popular robocall might leave you puzzled if you don’t speak Mandarin and end up on the receiving end of this scam. Most people probably hung up, not understanding a word that was being said. Unfortunately, the calls still made a fortune for the fraudsters behind it. Only one in 100 people in the U.S. speak Chinese, so scammers are casting an extremely wide net by placing robocalls to millions of people every month. It can still earn scammers thousands of dollars a week.

Just recently, the FBI revealed it had received more than 350 complaints from actual victims of the scam, with the combined losses reaching over $40 million. The average loss per victim was over $164,000, the FBI said in public service announcement about the “Chinese Embassy scam.”

So why has the scam been so effective? Although the calls were widespread across the US, they were designed to prey on the Chinese immigrant population. According to the FBI, many of the victims reported themselves as students or visiting university faculty from the country.

Here’s a quick refresher of how the ploy works.

The scam works by impersonating the Chinese government, which has jailed Chinese citizens, such as artists, journalists and lawyers, for opposing the country’s policies. People who pick up the robocalls will be told in Mandarin that they have an important package to pick up at the consulate. The call will then direct the victim to a live agent, who will tell them they may be in legal trouble.

“The person on the phone claims the victim’s passport, social security card, or credit card was found to be in the package or on the suspicious person. Victims are then told they are under investigation and, in order to assist Chinese law enforcement, they must speak to an investigator,” the FBI said.

Another version of the scam will pretend to be a Chinese credit card company, claiming the victim has an overdue balance. “Victims are then transferred to ‘investigators,’ who advise victims they must wire funds to accounts located almost exclusively in China or Hong Kong to resolve the situation,” the FBI added. “If the victims do not cooperate, they are threatened with deportation, loss of assets, and/or jail.”

Other variations of the scam will request for your personal information and credit card or banking information. Some will even ask for cryptocurrencies as a form of payment to “settle” the matter.

In other extreme cases, the scammers will hit the victims again by faking a kidnapping and calling the victim’s relatives for a ransom. Talk about double dipping!

But need I say more? It doesn’t matter which scenario you’re told, never ever fall for it. It’s a TRAP!

FBI Chinese Embassy Scam

To lend even more credibility to the whole scam, the culprits will use phone spoofing to make the calls look like they came from an actual Chinese embassy. The FBI has also received reports of the fraudsters contacting victims via text messages and chat applications. In some cases, the scammers will even supply documents containing the victims’ pictures, passport numbers, social security cards or financial data.

The scheme has so far ensnared unsuspecting victims across 27 states in the USA, the FBI said. 35 percent of the reported victims were based in California and New York, USA. Who the fraudsters are isn’t known, but their proficency in Mandarin suggests they operate out of mainland China.

The US Federal Trade Commission has tips on how Chinese-speakers can protect themselves from the scam. “If you have business with the real Chinese Consulate and you’re worried, contact the real Chinese Consulate by looking up your local office’s number. But, whatever you do, don’t give out your information —or your money— to anyone who contacts you out of the blue,” the commission says.

Robocalls target citizens of Asian descent or visitors

According to the FBI, typical victims are usually of Asian descent or are U.S. visitors from China. Since 2017, around 350 complaints about this scam have been reported with the scammers managing to bamboozle their way to a whopping $40 million! The average take per incident? $164,000.

Although the Chinese Embassy or Consulate scam may have peaked in 2018 and 2019, fresh reports with new variations are still being reported this year.

How to protect yourself from the Chinese Embassy scam

In response to these types of scams, the FTC advised to never send money to anyone who calls and asks you to send it.

Never give your Social Security number, bank or credit card number, or other critical data to anyone who calls and asks for it. Same thing if they email or message you through social media.

And here’s another vital piece of information to remember. Never will the real Chinese Consulates, or the Chinese Embassy, call you to ask for money.

If you get a call or message like this, hang up or delete it, and then tell the FTC. If you have business with the real Chinese Consulate and you’re worried, contact the real Chinese Consulate by looking up your local office’s number. But, whatever you do, don’t give out your information – or your money – to anyone who contacts you out of the blue.

However, if it’s too late and you realize that you’ve been scammed out of money, there’s no time to waste. Contact the financial institution you used and check if it can still stop the transaction.

If you’ve purchased gift cards — another perennial scammer favorite — contact the company that issued the cards to see what they can do. Next, aside from the FTC, you should also contact law enforcement — local police or even the FBI — and file a report that you might need later to make a claim.

REMINDER: ANYONE can clone ANY number to appear on caller ID!!!!