Warning rings out over ’embassy’ phone scam


Just hang up!

That was the message from San Francisco law enforcement officials at a public awareness campaign event on Monday in Chinatown to warn the Chinese community of a phone scam that can lead to a victim losing thousands to millions of dollars.

The phone scam called the “Chinese Embassy Phone Scam” is a robocall usually in Mandarin that tells the victim a Chinese government needs to immediately speak to them. The victim receives instruction to push a number to get in contact with the “government official” who is the first scammer the victim comes in contract with.

District Attorney Gascón said the phone number that appears may look like a local phone or mimic the phone number of the Chinese consulate or embassy:

“This a very sophisticated scheme because they’re using voiceover IP numbers.”

One San Francisco resident lost $2.86 million by making 11 money wire transfers to the scammers.

Captain Dominic Yin with the Police Department’s Special Victims Unit, which handles the money fraud cases, said another victim came into the Richmond Police Station on Sunday who said they lost $240,000:

“This is really a criminal enterprise.”

The first scammer tells the victim they are from either from the Chinese consulate or embassy and says that they have parcel for them and asks to confirm personal information such as the victim’s name, birth date, address, where in China they are from.

After the scammer receives all the information, the scammer then tells victim they will open the parcel for them. Once opened, the scammer tells the victim that they or a family member is under a fraud investigation in China, and that there are warrants out to arrest them or their family member.

The scammer then refers the victim to a “detective” assigned to the victim’s case. The detective is the second scammer.

The first scammer will help research information about the detective and will even join a three-way conversation with the detective on the phone.

Then, the second scammer will confirm everything said earlier, and the first scammer suggests the victim pay a bail to second scammer.

Another scenario that might occur is that the second scammer may order the victim to liquidate all their assets and wire the cash into multiple bank accounts in Hong Kong where investigators from the Hong Kong Independent Commission Against Corruption will follow the money trail before returning the money to the victim.

All the parties involved, including the victim, will negotiate an amount to wire and sent instructions how to wire the money.

The district attorney’s office said if the victim has money in the U.S., the money will most likely go into bank accounts in Hong Kong.

After the victim wires the money, the money is immediately withdrawn or laundered.

Julia Ma, a Sunnyvale resident, shared her story at the event saying she had almost been a victim of the phone scam after receiving a similar call about her passport being used and was accused of selling her passport in the underground market.

Ma had also received a phone call of another scam called the “gold scam.” Other scams that have also affected San Francisco Chinese residents include the “blessing scam.”

Deputy Consul General Zha Liyou with the Consulate-General of the People’s Republic of China in San Francisco reminded the Chinese community that the consulate or embassy would not make phone calls asking for any personal information or any police department inquires.

San Francisco residents are encouraged to call the district attorney’s fraud hotline at (415) 551-9595 for anyone that may have fallen victim to any of the scams.

Jerold Chinn
Jerold Chinn is the San Francisco Bureau Chief of SFBay and covers transportation and City Hall. He has spent a decade covering transportation in San Francisco. Jerold is a San Francisco native and frequently takes public transit everywhere he goes. Follow Jerold on Twitter @jerold_chinn. Email tips to

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