China on Wednesday issued an alert against a widespread telecom scam, urging overseas citizens to stay alert against dubious phone calls and emails.
According to reports, callers pretending to be officials from Chinese diplomatic missions have tricked unsuspecting Chinese citizens abroad, some of whom have ended up losing significant amounts of money.
During the call, the caller ID shows up as that of a Chinese embassy or consulate, therefore, making it difficult for people to detect the fraud.
"The Chinese Foreign Ministry attaches great importance to these telecom fraud cases occurring recently. We have already issued alerts jointly with embassies in the related countries. Actually, we have issued alerts multiple times," China's Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang said on Wednesday, urging overseas citizens to be vigilant.
It was also reported that in some of these cases, the callers pretending to be Chinese diplomatic officials approached the victims claiming they need to handle a legal issue back home or to renew their passports.
Lu clarified that officials from Chinese embassies do not make phone calls for such purposes.
"The Chinese embassies will never inform compatriots overseas by phone about law cases to be dealt with back in China, or that anyone's passport has expired and needs extension or replacement, or ask for anyone's bank card or account information. The phone numbers sometimes appeared to be those of our embassies. This is because the lawbreakers have disguised the caller ID with technical methods," he explained.
He advised overseas Chinese citizens to remain on high alert against dubious phone calls and emails and report such matters to the authorities.
"You may seek verification through the phone number provided on the official website of a local Chinese diplomatic and consular mission or the 12308 hotline of the Global Emergency Call Center for Consular Protection and Services of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs."
An explosion in telecom crime
China has been battling an explosion in telecom crime in recent years, which has led to huge financial losses, with callers often impersonating officials while targeting vulnerable groups such as students, the elderly, the unemployed or overseas citizens.
The fraud has spread overseas, with Chinese speakers recruited in southeastern Chinese island region Taiwan increasingly setting up operations in East Africa or Southeast Asia.
Last month, a Beijing court sentenced 85 people deported from Kenya, including 44 from China's Taiwan region, to up to 15 years in jail. The court said in a statement that one man, Chang Kai-min, had been jailed for 15 years for helping scam 185 people out of more than 29 million yuan (4.4 million U.S. dollars).
Over the past two years, countries including Kenya, Spain, Vietnam and Cambodia have deported hundreds of people from Taiwan to China for being involved in telecom fraud.
Chinese prosecutors nationwide indicted 22,268 people in 8,257 cases involving property violations via Internet or telecommunication in the first nine months of 2017, China's Xinhua news agency reported last month.
The Supreme People's Procuratorate (SPP) investigation department called for quicker efforts to deal with cyber and telecom fraud, and to tackle the problem at its root.
According to the SPP, between January and September, prosecutors also lodged complaints against 710 people in 334 cases of computer-related crimes, such as hacking computer systems, Xinhua reported.
Earlier in 2017, seven people were sentenced to prison in eastern China's Shandong Province in a telecom fraud case linked to the death of a teenager.
Xu Yuyu, a high school graduate from Linyi, died of cardiac arrest in August 2016 after being defrauded out of 9,900 yuan (1,500 U.S. dollars), which she intended to use to pay university tuition fees.