- Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation
We first warned you about this scam last spring as the calls were making their way to the landlines and cellphones of Massachusetts residents. The calls have ramped up over the last few months, in fact, many people in our Office and our agencies received the call to our work lines just the other day.
The calls are in a Chinese language, most commonly mandarin. So although the scammers are spoofing the numbers to make them look like they’re originating locally, if you do answer and don’t speak the language, then chances are you hung up.
But for those residents who speak a Chinese language this scam can be very scary. The caller claims to represent the Chinese embassy or consulate. They insist that your identity has been stolen and offer the Chinese government’s assistance in the matter. Other variations of this scam include a warning that a warrant has been issued for your arrest because of a failure to pay international fines or taxes or a package that has been sent to the consulate for you to pick up.
Many individuals have fallen victim to these scams all over the country and the payouts for the scammers can be substantial. One individual reported a loss of $1.5 million to a New York legislator. It is speculated that these scams are successful for a few reasons. First, these frauds use spoofing technology to make the caller ID register the call as from the Chinese Embassy. Second, the scammer speaks the same language as the victim which may result in a greater level of believability, as most scam calls targeting consumers in the U.S. are in English. Moreover, while many scammers just autodial people at random, some do their research and find publicly available information using internet searches. It’s smart to refrain from sharing personal information, such as your full birth date, address, or family members on social media.
This embassy phone scam is no different than a tax scam or utility scam. Scammers are out for personal information so that they can steal your money or your identity. No matter how convincing it may sound, never disclose personal information over the phone if you did not originate the call.
If you or someone you know gets this call, remember, scams generally are effective because they create fear and urgency. Slow the scammer down! Ask for their name and where they are calling from and call them back using the phone number found online. Do not call them back using the number they provide! If you are unsure if your identity has been compromised, review our Consumer Checklist for Handling Identity Theft for information on actions you should take.
You should file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) if you get a call like this and inform your local police department. Scams can spread across the state in no time so it is important to keep not only yourself, but also your family and friends informed.
The Mass Office for Refugees and Immigrants can also be a resource for consumers who are unsure about whether a call, email or letter may be legitimate. The U.S. State Department also has information about current or popular international scams.