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Sydney - Thousands of people across Greater Sydney region have been targeted by Mandarin-speaking fraudsters in a sophisticated phone scam demanding money under threats of violence, prompting Australian police to warn the Australian-Chinese community.

The elaborate and ever-evolving ruse targeting "vulnerable members of the Australian-Chinese community" has already netted at least five million Australian dollars, New South Wales police said on Wednesday.  

"The caller purports to be a government official and the essence of the scam is to convince the victim they are in trouble, but they can pay their way out of it," Linda Howlett, a police detective, told a press conference in Parramatta, a large suburb west of Sydney.

The call starts with a recorded message in English or Mandarin, and transfers to a person claiming to be from the Chinese embassy or consulate, who claims the victim has been implicated in a crime or their identity has been stolen and could impact on their visa to stay in Australia or harm could come to their family back home. 

The scammers even instruct the victims to fake their own kidnapping so their family can be extorted into making payments on their behalf.

Howlett said one Sydney victim paid 1.9 million dollars to scammers and, in the past week, there have been three forced fake kidnappings.

China's deputy consul-general in Sydney, Tong Xuejun, said earlier this month more than 1 000 cases had been reported since August 2017.

"We have confirmed about 40 cases that caused a loss. The total amount of money involved is about $10m," Tong was quoted as saying by the local Daily Telegraph newspaper.