Universities respond to extortion schemes targeting Asian students

WASHINGTON — Area universities are alerting their international students about an extortion scheme that has targeted Asian students in Washington.

Johns Hopkins University acknowledges that two of its students were contacted in the scheme, and a D.C. Police report indicates that one student lost $20,000. Another student went missing for a day in what D.C. police say was a virtual kidnapping in connection with the extortion plot.

An international student at Catholic University was also targeted by the extortionists. A D.C. police report indicates that the student lost $7,500.

American University said it’s reaching out to its international students to apprise them of the scam. 

Police said students have been contacted by people claiming to be with the Chinese Embassy or international law enforcement. The scammer accuses the student of money laundering or some other crime and demands large sums of money to avoid criminal charges.

Johns Hopkins University said it is conducting two town-hall-style meetings this week to better inform students about the scam.

In addition, the school is providing students with the names, phone numbers and email addresses of law enforcement and other resources they would need if they are contacted by the scammers.

A female Johns Hopkins student went missing for a day last month in what D.C. police call a virtual kidnapping.

Although police did not explain the circumstances of the virtual kidnapping, Johns Hopkins’ instructions to its international students say that in some extortion attempts, students have been told to go into hiding and await instructions. If the student complies, it gives the extortionist the opportunity to contact the student’s family home to demand ransom.

Johns Hopkins is also advising its students that criminals learn about them through social media, including Facebook and WeChat. The school is also reminding students to secure their personal information online.

The schools say they are working closely with law enforcement in the ongoing investigation.


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