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For the last three weeks, I’ve been the target of a well thought out phone scam, impersonating the Chinese Consulate. The ruse was different during each call, but resulted in the same ask to wire them money.

Thanks to victims, the FTC, and information I have gleaned from these calls, here’s what known about their tactics.

These scammers are targeting Americans with Chinese sounding last names. They’re seeking out vulnerable victims who may automatically trust someone who speaks their language.

Victims have reported that the scammer, speaking in Mandarin, said were in trouble with the law and needed to pay a fine, the Consulate found someone traveling on their documents and wanted to verify identification information (e.g. passport number, social security number), or that they owed the consulate money.

If you don’t pick up the phone and let the call go to voicemail, a recorded voice identifies themselves as the Chinese Consulate and asks you to call them back regarding an urgent matter.

This isn’t any different than past phone scams targeting minorities, the immigrant community, or other groups. In fact, the scam has been pervasive worldwide.

The advice from the FTC is simple. Just hang up, don’t give out information, and don’t send money. Much like the U.S. Government, foreign governments will not call to demand immediate payment or sensitive information over the phone. You should always report the call to the FTC’s ‘Do Not Call’ website.

In my case, I did all of the above. And frankly, it was quite obvious during the very first call I received that it was a scam.

That’s because the scammers used a low-quality, computer synthesized male voice, speaking in Mandarin. But what’s scary was that the second call had a perfectly annunciated, voice-over quality female speaking in Mandarin. Much like a telephone recording you would hear when calling into an actual Chinese government agency.

Bottom line, beware of any suspicious calls. And if you’re getting scam calls on your cell phone, consider signing up for your carrier’s Caller Name ID (or similar) service, which can tell you whether the incoming call is a scam by checking against a known database of suspicious phone numbers.

(Featured photo credit: “A day in the life” by frankieleon is licensed under CC BY 2.0.)

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