Criminals posing as law enforcement agents of the Chinese government are shaking down Chinese nationals living the United States by accusing them of financial crimes and threatening to arrest or hurt them if they don’t pay, according to the FBI.
The miscreants involved in this financial fraud contact victims by spoofed phone or email messages, the bureau said in an advisory this week. Popular fake identities for the crooks include agents at the People’s Republic of China (PRC) Ministry of Public Security or US-based Chinese consulates.
“Criminals may show victims fraudulent documents as proof of these accusations, including realistic-looking arrest warrants or intricate details about alleged criminal schemes,” the FBI wrote in the advisory. “Criminals may also display basic knowledge of the victim to appear more legitimate.”
The fraudsters appear to be riding the publicity surrounding Operation Fox Hunt, a program by the Chinese Communist Party to hunt down citizens living abroad and return them to the country. The Middle Kingdom claims that ongoing campaign is a crackdown on corrupt wealthy citizens living in the US, Canada, Europe, and beyond.
As part of that program, Beijing accuses Chinese citizens of committing financial crimes back home and fleeing the country with large amounts of money. It then leans on foreign governments and international law enforcement – such as Interpol – to issue warrants for their arrests.
But it’s darker than that. According to the FBI and other agencies around the world, Chinese officials also will pressure and threaten their targets’ relatives to convince them to return to China, send threatening letters, sue them in US courts, and send covert teams to stalk and harass them.
FBI Director Christopher Wray has said that Operation Fox Hunt is China’s way to target Chinese citizens living in the US and elsewhere that government officials determine are political and financial threats to President Xi’s regime. In announcing arrests in the US in 2020 connected to Operation Fox Hunt, Wray outlined some of the methods used by the Chinese operatives.
“When it couldn’t locate a Fox Hunt target, the Chinese government sent an emissary to visit the victim’s family here in the United States,” he said during a press conference. “And the message they said to pass on? The target had two options: Return to China promptly or commit suicide.”
If they refuse to return to China, “their family members, both here in the United States and in China, have been threatened and coerced, and those back in China have even been arrested for leverage. These are not the actions we would expect from a responsible nation state. Instead, it’s more like something we’d expect from an organized criminal syndicate.”
In a speech in January 2022, Wray said Chinese operatives also have blackmailed and kidnapped Chinese nationals and have offered bounties to criminal organizations in the US to get citizens back home. The FBI director said the Chinese government has brought back more than 9,000 people worldwide.
The FBI has charged various suspects in connection with Operation Fox Hunt, including in 2020 when eight people were indicted for conspiring to act as agents of the PRC and two years later when seven were indicted on similar charges.
The agency isn’t explicitly saying the crooks targeting Chinese nationals in the US are part of Operation Fox Hunt, but that they “exploit widely publicized efforts by the People’s Republic of China government to harass and facilitate repatriation of individuals living in the United States to build plausibility for their fraud.”
The FBI advised people to not release personal identifying information or send money if contacted by unknown people accusing them of a crime and to contact the FBI if they are contacted by people claiming to be law enforcement from China. ®
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