About Us Contact Us Privacy Policy Terms of Use DMCA Opt-out of personalized ads
© Copyright 2023 Market Realist. Market Realist is a registered trademark. All Rights Reserved. People may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website. Offers may be subject to change without notice.

Cyber 'Kidnapping' Scams Targeting Chinese Students on the Rise Globally

The scammers convince the victims to go into hiding, creating a facade of an actual abduction
Cover Image Source: Cyber scams | Pexels | Photo by Pixabay
Cover Image Source: Cyber scams | Pexels | Photo by Pixabay

In a disturbing trend, cybercriminals are increasingly preying on Chinese students, using elaborate schemes to extort money from their families. The most recent incident involves 17-year-old Chinese student Kai Zhuang in Utah, who was reported missing and found days later alone in the mountains, revealing an apparent cyber kidnapping attempt to scam his family out of $80,000.


The case is not one of its kind. In February 2023, Chinese students in Canada were swindled out of hundreds of thousands of dollars by scammers claiming to be Chinese government officials. These cyber kidnapping incidents follow a consistent pattern, with perpetrators often posing as Chinese police or government officials. The modus operandi involves convincing the victim to go into hiding, creating a facade of an actual abduction, and then coercing the family into paying a ransom. 

Regarding the scams, the CEO of cybersecurity company Fortalice Solutions, Theresa Payton, states, "At the heart of it are the heartstrings of the victim, who is told to go run and hide, and the heartstrings of the people who think their loved one is actually in the possession of kidnappers." She emphasizes the manipulative and emotionally draining nature of virtual kidnapping. This form of cybercrime exploits the deep-seated fear and respect for authorities prevalent in China, using it as a tool to extract money from unsuspecting families.

Pexels | Photo by Pixabay
Image Source: Pexels | Photo by Pixabay

Contrary to assumptions, these cyber scams aren't limited to Chinese students in the United States. Incidents over the past year reveal that students studying abroad in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Japan have all been targeted. The common thread remains the impersonation of Chinese police officers or government officials.

Experts suggest that criminals are leveraging China's authoritarian system, where deference to the police is the norm, to exploit the vulnerabilities of Chinese students studying abroad. Language barriers and a general distrust of foreign law enforcement among Chinese parents contribute to the success of these scams.

The complexity of these cyber kidnapping schemes varies, with some relying on basic tactics like impersonation through phone calls, while others employ advanced technologies. Artificial intelligence (AI) is increasingly being used to identify targets, and deepfake technology creates realistic photos and audio to convince victims that their loved ones are in danger.

According to cybersecurity expert Joseph Steinberg, the use of AI in these scams eliminates the need for perpetrators to speak the same language as their victims, making the attacks more realistic and challenging to detect. The lack of clear data on the number of cyber kidnapping cases worldwide raises concerns, with experts warning that technological advancements, especially in AI, could further escalate these crimes.


Embassies and local authorities have started issuing warnings to Chinese citizens, especially students studying abroad, to be vigilant against virtual kidnapping and other telecom and online frauds. The Chinese Embassy in the U.S. has urged citizens to boost safety awareness and take necessary precautions.

To combat these schemes, cybersecurity experts recommend families establish a secure method, such as a password, to verify each other's identity over the phone during potential virtual kidnapping scenarios. "The cyber kidnapping scam very much can happen to anybody, and that’s what people need to be aware of," Steinberg remarked.