Phone scam targeting local Chinese speakers costs victims $1.4 million

Telephone on an window lit office desk with the receiver off the hook and the call on hold(Thinkstock)

WASHINGTON — A scam targeting the Chinese community in Montgomery County, Maryland, fleeced several people of over a million dollars.

Just like other well-known scams — like the one in which a caller claims to be from the Internal Revenue Service, or another where the victim is threatened with a fine for missing jury duty — this phishing scam plays on fear, said Brandon Mengedoht, a detective with Montgomery County police’s financial crimes division.

“Out of the blue, the speaker on the other end will identify themselves as some type of law enforcement — either the Chinese government [or] from Hong Kong, or Taiwan, in some cases,” said Mengedoht.

The caller will then demand the recipient pay a fine immediately over the phone, and often will call back and demand more money, or claim the payment did not go through.

Since May, just seven victims have lost a combined $1.4 million.

“We had one victim suffer over $700,000 alone,” he said.

Investigators believe the victims could be connected through a church, neighborhood or community listserv containing personal information which ultimately fell into the wrong hands. Mengedoht said the culprit could also be robocalls that cast a wide net, in hope of capturing at least a couple of big fish.

“This is an affinity-type fraud. They’re targeting their own community. There could be victims out there who are embarrassed and don’t want to come forward, but the information they have might lead to identifying who they are or prevent this from happening to the next victim.”

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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