A group of scammers claiming to be members of various Chinese law-enforcement agencies have extorted about $500,000 from Chinese citizens living in Washington on student or work visas, according to the FBI.

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Chinese students in Washington state be warned:  scammers pretending to be members of Chinese law enforcement have bilked at least five people of $100,000 apiece, according to the FBI’s Seattle Division.

The scam targets Chinese citizens living in Washington on a student or work visa — is launched through email and text messages in which the perpetrators claim to be members of various Chinese law-enforcement agencies and tell the victims they are being investigated for money laundering and other crimes in China, the FBI said.

The victims  are told they have only two options: return to China and face prison or “send money to the law-enforcement agency supposedly investigating them,” the FBI said. The money would go toward an “analysis” that would reportedly “prove” their innocence, the FBI said.

In 2018, at least five individuals were targeted in Washington and most incurred losses of nearly $100,000, the FBI said.

The FBI said in its release that it wants to warn people about the scam and encourage anyone else who was victimized by the scam to report it.

“Reporting this type of fraud as soon as it occurs increases the likelihood that law enforcement will be successful in its investigation,” the FBI statement said.

The ruse follows recent high-profile cases in which the Chinese government has begun flexing its muscles internationally in an effort to hold accountable emigrated citizens accused of money laundering and other financial crimes.

In June, China refused to let two American citizens leave the country because their father,  Liu Changming, a former state bank executive, was accused of being a central figure in a $1.4 billion fraud case. To force the father to return to China, the government banned his children, Victor and Cynthia Liu, from returning to the United States, according to The New York Times. 

Here are some tips from the FBI on reducing your likelihood of being a victim:

1. If contacted by parties representing themselves as Chinese law enforcement, verify the authenticity of the communication by contacting the law-enforcement agency through official channels such as email addresses or the phone number on the official agency website.

2. Protect personal identifiable information such as date of birth or passport number.

3. Be aware that emails or text messages may appear to be from a law-enforcement agency, when they are actually from scammers. Email spoofing — the forgery of an email header so that the message appears to have originated from someone or somewhere other than the actual source — is a common tactic in many scams.

The FBI asks that that if you, or someone you know, has been targeted by this Chinese law-enforcement impersonation fraud, please contact the FBI’s Seattle Division at 206-622-0460. Scams can also be reported at FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.