Chinese robocalls continue to vex San Gabriel Valley residents
San Gabriel Councilman Chin Ho Liao likes to make himself available to the residents he represents.
He’s not shy about giving out his cellphone number to residents who want to air their concerns. But the problem with picking up every call, he said, is that many of them are the same: a recording which sometimes begins with music, and a Mandarin-speaking woman warning you are wanted in China.
Or you owe money.
Or you have urgent documents to pick up before a deadline.
“It’s crazy,” Liao said. “Every day, I receive several of these phone calls. I just hang up, but it’s annoying.”
For the past 1 1/2 years, people in the San Gabriel Valley, New York City and parts of Australia and Canada have been been bombarded by scam robocalls targeted at people who speak Mandarin Chinese.
In the first wave of calls, the woman in the recording posed as a Chinese consulate staff member and said a parcel or package addressed to the person was waiting to be picked up at the consulate, according to Patty Poss, an attorney with the Federal Trade Commission.
The woman then said the package is linked to a criminal investigation and that the situation could be resolved through a money transfer or credit card payment, Poss said in a statement.
“If you have business with the real Chinese Consulate and you’re worried, contact the real Chinese Consulate by looking up your local office’s number,” Poss said in the statement. “But, whatever you do, don’t give out your information — or your money — to anyone who contacts you out of the blue.”
In subsequent similar scam calls, the callers posed as associates of relatives in need of assistance and recently as Bank of America employees.
The phone calls — whose originating numbers constantly change — are often “spoofed” to make them appear on caller ID as coming from a legitimate source, according to the Federal Communications Commission.
Between December 2017 and February, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center received more than 350 reports from victims of these scams. The losses from these reports combined for a total $40 million, with the loss per victim averaging $164,000, according to a FBI report released March 28.
While the reports came from 27 different states, 35 percent of victims were in California and New York, the report said. The majority of victims are of Asian descent, with many reporting themselves to be students or university faculty visiting from China.
Liao said he fears that a large group of victims — undocumented immigrants — aren’t reporting the crime.
“Those are the vulnerable ones,” Liao said. “They don’t want to reach out to law enforcement because they don’t want to expose their identities — their immigration status — so they don’t get themselves into trouble.”
No matter who the person calling claims to be, people should never send money to anyone who calls and asks for it; and they should not divulge Social Security numbers, bank or credit card numbers or other sensitive information, Poss said in her statement. Her advice? Hang up on those calls.
The same goes for requests by email and social media, including Chinese platforms like WeChat, Poss added.
Anyone who receives these calls can file complaints with the FCC, the FTC and the FBI.
In the meantime, many beleaguered robocall receivers are at their wits’ end. San Gabriel resident Jade Flores said she receives the calls daily.
“I don’t want to keep changing my home phone number,” Flores said. “It’s very annoying.”