For over a year, Chinese overseas students in the United Kingdom have been targeted by persistent Chinese-speaking scammers as part of an operation known as RedZei (aka RedThief). “The RedZei scammers meticulously select their targets, analyze them, and know it is a wealthy victim group ripe for exploitation,” cybersecurity expert Will Thomas (@BushidoToken) said in a blog post last week.
The most significant component of the operation is the threat actors’ employment of a different pay-as-you-go U.K. phone number for each wave in order to render phone number-based blocking ineffective.
How RedZei Scammers Carry Out Their Ploy
Thomas, pointing out the scammers’ thorough tradecraft, stated that the threat actor switches between SIM cards from several cell carriers such as Three, O2, E.E., Tesco Mobile, and Telia. According to reports, the lucrative RedZei campaign may have begun as early as August 2019, with an article from The Guardian describing a visa scam that duped Chinese students into paying large sums of money to avoid deportation.
The method entails contacting potential targets once or twice a month using a unique U.K. phone number and leaving a “strange” automated message if the calls go unanswered. The voicemails spoof firms trick students into disclosing personal information, such as Bank of China and China Mobile, as well as the Chinese consulate.
“Other schmes used by RedZei include ‘abnormal utilization of your NHS number’ and overseas shipments delivered by DHL, both of which are prevalent worries for Chinese students studying in the U.K.,” Thomas added.
More Chinese International Students Targeted
These frauds and scams mainly target Chinese international students. The student will generally receive a call from someone purporting to be from the Chinese embassy or another official. This has been recorded in a number of nations and is not exclusive to the U.S. or U.K.
The student is informed that they have been implicated in a crime in China or that they are under threat. The scammers may even claim to be from the police in the student’s home country and that they are investigating reports that their identity has been stolen.
Fraudsters will frequently contact their victims via cell phone or WeChat, but they may also use email or other methods. They then obtain the victim’s personal information and use it to extort money from the victim’s family, saying that the student has been abducted.
Another means is that Chinese students would receive calls from people stating to be from ‘The Shanghai Police,’ ‘The Beijing Police,’ ‘The Chinese Embassy in London,’ or other legitimate Chinese organizations. Although the scammers appear incredibly plausible, neither of these situations is true. People claim that the Chinese student is involved in a severe crime or problem and that the student is in big difficulty. The student is told that until they provide the person’s money, they will be deported from the U.K. and face a criminal inquiry.
Another student received a threat of imprisonment if they delayed in transferring £35,000 into an account after receiving a call from a con artist posing as a representative of the “Chinese Embassy,” according to the con artist’s claims.
“Unfortunately, this is only a fresh iteration of a scam we’ve seen before, in which con artists impersonate law enforcement or official figures in order to defraud victims of their money. In order to target overseas students, criminals are now disguising themselves as foreign police officers and government officials “said Gerard Pollock, superintendent of the PSNI and head of the Scamwise NI Partnership.
These students lost a staggering amount of money, but regrettably, the thieves just cared about their own benefit. I think that other students in the UK, both here and overseas, might have gotten these calls and might have lost a lot of money. RedZei scammers will do whatever to deceive you out of money with these calls, to your loss and their gain, the speaker added.
Ways To Stay Safe From RedZei Scams
- Do not respond if you are contacted by someone making allegations such as the ones discussed above.
- Permanently delete texts requesting personal information or bank account details.
- Do not click on links in the text or even respond to unsolicited texts.
- Never transfer money to another account.
- Call the police (101 or 999 if you are in urgent danger)
- Notify your institution as quickly as possible.
- Also, notify your friends, parents, and guardians of any concerns about a specific friend or fellow student.
It is crucial to stress that you should never transfer money to another account after receiving a call from an unknown number. Terminate the call.
Chinese threat actors have been preying on Chinese-speaking students in the United Kingdom with a novel phone scam that entails repeated calls and voicemails that are difficult for victims or carriers to prevent “in an effort to obtain their personal information. Redzei or “RedThief” targets victims’ phones few times in a month from a unique UK-based phone number, leaving a “malicious” automated voicemail message if the recipient does not answer.
Anyone who has lived abroad knows that visas are a frequent source of stress, and scammers are capitalizing on fears of being deported. Fabricating problems with immigration status can spur victims to make quick, desperate decisions without thinking them through, which makes immigrant diasporas lucrative targets. Chinese students studying abroad are financially well-off on the whole, which means they have money to steal.
RedZei and other groups take advantage of victims’ fears, and these scam calls are no exception. Chinese students in the UK have a fear of being deported back to their home country, and scammers target that fear. Unfortunately, due to the scammer use of random “burner” phone numbers, call blocking does not provide a shield against these calls.