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Do not answer the call. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Do not answer the call. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
CALLING FROM THE EMBASSY

Phone scammers are targeting Chinese speakers in the US

By Youyou Zhou

A phone scam targeting Chinese speakers is reaching an increasing number of people in the US—even people who only speak English.

In several cases examined by Quartz, a robocall alerts the recipient to a purported “emergency notice” from the Chinese Consulate. The caller ID is sometimes (212) 244-9392—the phone number of the Chinese consulate in New York. Diplomats there say the calls aren’t coming from them.

Here’s an example of one:

The scam caller tries to convince their target to reveal payment and personal information (link in Chinese) by claiming that they’re investigating credit card fraud or attempting to deliver a package left at the consulate.

The scam was first reported to consular staff in November 2017, according to a person who answered the Chinese consular assistance and protection phone number. She refused to provide her name.

The New York consulate issued a phone scam alert in August 2017 after receiving dozens of complaints. Three months later, after more reports of the scam were filed to more diplomatic outposts in Canada and the US, the consulate issued a second notice (link in Chinese) to the immigrant community.

Just last month, it issued a third statement (link in Chinese) alerting the community of increased spam calls and some more complex plots, including one that claims the scammer could help exchange yuan to US dollars, then requests a money transfer on Chinese messaging app WeChat.

The scammers’ calls reach not only Chinese immigrants, but others, too. Reports of spam calls with the caller ID of the Chinese consulate in New York have increased on the phone-spam-tracking website Who Calls Me. Despite the small number of reports to Who Calls Me, the trend is indicative.

Multiple Quartz staffers whose phone numbers have New York City area codes also recently got phone calls like these. One Quartz reporter received three calls in one day.

The calls are generally ignored by Americans who do not understand Chinese, but have tricked some Chinese immigrants in New York out of at least $2.5 million since December, according to the New York Police Department.

The woman on the consular assistance and protection and protection line told Quartz that Chinese consulates never request personal information by phone, and that the types of investigations and delivery notifications described by the scammers are not conducted by the consular staff there.