Xinlu Liang, 22, a Chinese grad student at the University of Southern California has bravely told the story of how in 2019 she lost $43,000 to a ‘government impostor’ scam.

Xinlu Liang arrived in the US in June 2019 to study a master’s degree in journalism at USC. Just over a month later she was targeted by scammers. Her story is unique – every victim’s story is – but her experience contains the elements that are found in most scams of this kind.

A vulnerable victim

Xinlu had only recently arrived in the US. She was:

  • busy and stressed – “every day was a struggle: seven hours of classes, Tuesday through Friday, followed by many more hours of writing”
  • isolated and lonely – “I lived in an apartment near campus, with a roommate I didn’t really know. I had few friends — and little familiarity with American customs”

Fear – setting the trap

Scammers use fear to trap their victims. Often the level of fear will be deliberately built up in stages. In Xinlu Liang’s case it happened like this:

Step 1

She received a call from someone claiming to be from UPS in Beijing. They said she had a suspicious package blocked at Chinese customs and suggested she report the matter to Chinese police. The caller offered to transfer her call to the police and Xinlu agreed.

Step 2

Another person claiming to be a Chinese police officer came on the line and agreed to file a report on Xinlu’s behalf. He put her on hold while he ‘ran her name in the database’.

When he came back on the call the fear dial was turned up: “Xinlu Liang! Why does your name pop up in the biggest money-laundering case in China?”

Xinlu was confused and scared: “At first, I was bewildered; then, I was terrified.”

She was now also caught in the fear trap set by the scammers: “I was also hooked, desperate to clear my name.”

Springing the trap

Five days after receiving the first call Xinlu went to a Bank of America branch and transfered all of her money – $43,000 – to what she thought was an HSBC account in Hong Kong. The scammers told her that the transfer would be temporary so that investigations could continue.

The money was meant to cover her tuition, room and board.

Soon after Xinlu made the first transfer, the scammers contacted her again and demanded a further $50,000 for “bail money”.

At that point Xinlu panicked and called her parents asking for more money to cover the new request from the scammers. They smelled a rat and did not transfer the money.

After discussion with her parents and friends, Xinlu realised she had been scammed.

Victim impact

Most scams have an immediate financial impact on the victim. After all the scammers are out to make money. The psychological and emotional impact is often forgotten.

This scam hit Xinlu hard. Here’s some of her thoughts and reflections in her own words:

How could I be so gullible?

In the days after I realized I had been duped, I fell into a deep abyss. My family had to come up with another $43,000 to get me through school. I felt so guilty that I refused to spend $2 to dry my clothes, hanging my laundry out to dry instead. I stayed in bed for hours, binge-watching Korean TV shows.

Even now, I still shudder when I think of how I allowed myself to fall for their scheme.

My parents had worked hard to attend university and establish themselves as English teachers in the city of Guangzhou, a metropolis in southern China. Throughout my childhood they emphasized the importance of education, and I was able to attend Sun Yat-sen University, a top school in China. All the while, they were scrimping and saving so I could eventually study abroad as a graduate student. This one-year experience at USC was not only my dream, but theirs as well.

The scars will be slow to heal.

Knowledge is the best defence

As an international student, the best way to protect yourself from scams is to ensure you understand the risks and warning signs.

Study Guard can help. Take our free course on ‘Scams Targeting International Students‘ today.

It takes about 10 minutes and could save you from becoming a victim of a scam.

Photo by Yuris Alhumaydy on Unsplash