SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) - Scammers are targeting the Bay Area's Chinese speaking population. Authorities are calling it the "Chinese Embassy Phone Scam." One victim was taken for nearly $3 million. You may have gotten one of these phone calls yourself.
The scammers are calling any phone in the Bay Area, but non-Chinese speakers may blow off messages in Mandarin.
Law enforcement experts say calls with an official sounding message to contact the embassy is the beginning stages of a multinational scam targeting Chinese speakers in the U.S.
"They usually speak Mandarin, and they're telling people that they have warrants, or they have family members that are wanted in the People's Republic of China," said San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón.
Here's how the scam works: The scammers use computers to make their phone number look like it's coming from a Chinese embassy official, telling the victim that someone has used the victim's identity and committed a crime and the matter is being referred to Chinese law enforcement.
Then a second group of scammers posing as Chinese law enforcement demand a bond to prevent the victim or a family member from being jailed. The victim then wires the money to Hong Kong where it's laundered through a series of accounts.
The Chinese consulate in San Francisco is working with Bay Area, U.S. and Chinese law enforcement officials to crack down on the multinational criminals and is telling potential victims the embassy would never contact them by phone and demand money.
"As consulates, as diplomats, we would never ask people in such a way," said Zha Liyou, Deputy Consul General People's Republic of China.
On hand today, a woman who was nearly victimized by a similar scam. She says in her case the only reason she wasn't scammed is because she'd heard about it before hand.
Investigators are telling potential victims the best way to avoid the scam-- that if a call if it comes in even if it comes from an official looking number, to simply hang up. "I implore you," said Captain Paul Yep of the San Francisco Police Department, "anybody that gets these phone calls to ignore them, there is no truth to them."
One victim of this scam transferred $2.8 million to Hong Kong in a series of 11 wire transfers.
This is still an active scam. Officials say that a victim was just conned out of $200,000 the other day and that the scammers are always looking for new victims.