Why Do I Get So Many Chinese-Speaking Robocalls?

Decoding Mandarin Robocall Scams: Insights and Prevention Strategies

If you have recently received a robocall in Mandarin, it is likely because you live in an area with a large Chinese immigrant population. The calls appear to target certain phone exchanges without considering the national origin of the recipients. The robocalls may be confusing or irritating to those who don’t speak Mandarin, causing them to hang up. However, some Chinese immigrants have found themselves caught in an international phone scam after following the prompts from the call.

Anatomy of a Mandarin Robocall

If you’ve been getting a lot of Mandarin robocalls lately, you may wonder what they are and how they work. Here’s a quick rundown:

  • The prerecorded beginning: The beginning of each call is a recorded message in Chinese, hoping the recipient will talk to a live operator by pushing a button. It’s no surprise that these are computer-generated calls–they’re practically free to make. This scam often involves a Mandarin speaker contacting someone and claiming to be from the Chinese consulate. The person is told that there is an important document that they must pick up, which could affect their status in the United States. They are then instructed to press any key for more information.
  • The familiar caller ID: The caller ID is a common element of many scammers’ strategies. They can set it to anything they want, making it seem like the call comes from a familiar area code.
  • The fake multinational company: Many scammers today will pose as a familiar, large corporation like Bank of America or UPS. Why? Because people are naturally more trusting of companies they know and see daily, a proven persuasion technique.
  • A calm and collected voice: The scammer will typically have a calm voice and be very collected in explaining your current situation. They take a businesslike approach because raising any red flags would give away that it is, in fact, a scam. This strategy can be effective as it lowers the victim’s suspicion.
  • Mentioning the police: Mentioning the cops is a scary prospect for many Chinese nationals in America. Once the authorities arrest you in China, you must prove your innocence. This is a foreign concept to most people in the United States, who are used to the notion of innocent until proven guilty. The Mandarin robocallers likely know this and target Chinese visitors because they will be more scared when cops are mentioned.

Chinese consulates and embassies worldwide, including Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Germany, and Australia, have warned of government impostor scams. The Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China in New York has posted a warning on its website. The consulate receives approximately 100 calls per week from people complaining about being scammed.

The scammers coerce their victims by manipulating common fears, such as immigration status and Mainland Chinese authority investigations. These attempts are often highly believable due to sophisticated methods, like using fake official documents or stolen data. The Federal Trade Commission has released warnings to the public about these types of phone calls.

Though many are now conscious of robocall scams, enough people still fall for them that the scammers see it as worth their while to keep going. The calls could come from anywhere globally, although the phone number might look local or like a number for the Chinese consulate. The FTC says that’s achieved through ID spoofing, a method where technology is used to give fake identification phone numbers. These calls typically originate from outside the United States, which exempts them from complying with the Federal Trade Commission’s Do Not Call Registry.

Some individuals may be spared from this robocall scam due to a lack of Mandarin-language skills, but it’s not the only fraud call out there. In fact, robocalls are the most common complaint (PDF) filed with the Federal Communications Commission.

According to YouMail’s Robocall Index, which has been tracking robocalls since 2015, the number of robocalls has been growing month after month throughout 2022. In October, Americans received 4.6 billion robocalls, 8.9% more than they did in September. On average, this amounted to 147 million calls per day – up from 139 million calls per day in September. Americans have already received 41.3 billion robocalls in the first ten months of this year, and if the trend continues, the country will approach 50 billion by year’s end.

Spam Calls and the Psychology of Fear

There is no doubt that the pandemic has created a unique opportunity for fraud to thrive, as scam artists take advantage of people’s fears and anxieties during a time of incredible isolation and uncertainty. Too many people fall for these scams because they don’t know how to think critically about the information they’re given.

Since the internet’s early days, online fraud has been a problem. Reportedly, the term “phishing” was created after scammers tried to capture information from AOL accounts in the 90s. Nowadays, you have probably gotten many emails offering a large sum of money from a wealthy benefactor or an unknown family member who wants to transfer funds to you and therefore needs your bank account details.

Unfortunately, phishers have become increasingly sophisticated in their methods over time. Nowadays, using data from social media sites makes it easy for fraudsters to personalize the messages they send- a process called “spear phishing.” Also, taking advantage of people who rely increasingly on smartphones has increased smishing attempts (phishing attempts made through text messages.)

Numerous studies are being conducted within the field of psychology to better understand online deception and how it works. Some simple rules have been revealed about what makes these attacks successful.

  1. The first is superficial: Some fraudsters will immediately attempt to gain your trust by incorporating familiar branding or logos. Most scams then try to cloud your logical thinking by appealing to emotion; this might be in the form of a threat or an enticing reward.
  2. The second is negative emotions: In more unsavory cases, a deceitful individual acts like a doctor or lawyer to exploit somebody close to the victim, pretending that the person is in dire need of financial assistance. Negative emotions play a significant role in these types of schemes.
  3. The third is limited time: Most scams provide a time-sensitive offer that requires an immediate response. This is key since it lifts the chance you’ll act before thinking critically about the situation. You’re in such a hurry to not miss the opportunity or avert a negative outcome that you overlook the likelihood of being deceived.

Most scams involve a mix of all three factors. For example, consider the robocalls stating they’re from the IRS or national crime agency. They tell you that unless you take action immediately by giving them your bank account information, you’ll face severe penalties such as fines or jail time. It’s very hard to think straight when you’re met with that immediate consequence.

We become more vulnerable in these situations because we let our guard down and allow emotions to affect our logical decisions. Unfortunately, smartphones may worsen this problem since it’s harder to pay attention to details on a smaller screen. Furthermore, most people communicate primarily through their phones, making us more likely to read and respond immediately to a message than we would an email.

Personalized messages and a desire to increase our social media footprint make social media users more susceptible to falling for scams. The more engaged you are on a particular social network, the higher your chances of encountering a scam on that app.

Worse, we frequently use our smartphones even when we’re unfocused. It’s not uncommon to scroll through our phones while on the bus or talking to a friend instead of paying attention to what they’re saying. We often quickly switch between apps and tasks without focusing on anything in particular.

Psychological Reasons Why People Fall for Scams

People often mistakenly think those who fall for scams are exclusively gullible, vulnerable, or not smart. However, many don’t realize that, in actuality, scammers use psychological techniques—such as social engineering (a type of psychological manipulation)—to coerce someone into completing an action they usually wouldn’t do, like revealing private information.

Some of the psychological reasons why people fall for scams include:

Reciprocity, the act of returning a favor

When we are given something, we feel indebted to the person and want to return the gesture. For example, psychologists have found that giving customers a mint after dinner can result in 20% higher tips.


People tend to value reliability in others and aim to be reliable themselves. Therefore, individuals are driven to act consistently with their prior actions or statements. After somebody makes a choice, he is likely motivated to behave the same way later on so that the decision appears justified. Scammers exploit peoples’ desire for consistency by first requesting something small and unimportant but then asking for more later on down the road when they have built up trustworthiness.

Social Proof

People tend to follow the crowd when unsure how to act. Even if someone is confident in their convictions, peer pressure can be influential. The more the number of people taking a particular action, the more likely it will seem like the right thing to do.


We are more likely to do what someone we like asks of us than a stranger. Yet, a stranger can be just as persuasive if he comes across as nice. So, scammers will send phishing emails to the victim’s contacts to take advantage of the fact that the victim’s friends are more likely to respond positively to something coming from a “friend.”


People tend to agree with or follow those seen as experts or authority figures. In the famous Stanley Milgram study, where he convinced volunteers to deliver electric shocks (or so they thought) to other subjects who failed to answer questions correctly, the experimenter demonstrated how easy it is for those in positions of power to control others. To scam someone, fraudsters may pretend to be an authority figure- such as a CEO- and request immediate action. When urgency is involved, people are usually too afraid to disagree with somebody considered higher up than them.


When an item is seen as rare, we are more likely to desire it. People want what they cannot have. It’s a primal desire that drives us to chase after the things we want. Fraudsters will capitalize on our want for scarce things by making their offer time-sensitive or telling customers that their account will expire in 24 hours if they don’t take action immediately.

How to Avoid Falling Prey to Phone Schemes

Here are some tried-and-true methods to help you dodge phone scams, regardless of how frequently the scammers switch up their strategies:

Stop and think

Fraudsters often exploit people by pretending that their money is at risk or that they will miss out on a rare opportunity if they don’t act now. They utilize tactics like urgency, authority, and scarcity to exert pressure on victims. Oftentimes, these schemes are successful because we are sidetracked by other things going on in our lives, like driving our kids to school or being absorbed in work. If you find yourself questioning whether something may be fishy, take a step back and think about it before giving away any money or information about yourself.

If you’re feeling pressure to make fast decisions, stop and assess the situation — just a few minutes can help you figure out if someone is trying to scam you. Reread the message carefully; a fraudulent text may have typos, while an email might be from a slightly different address than one belonging to a legitimate person or company. Remember, your bank will never contact you and ask you to transfer money into a different account. So, if somebody calls trying to pressure you into doing this, resist them.

Social media is rampant with unrealistic investment opportunities. Don’t fall for them! Do your research on a company before investing any of your hard-earned money. Recently, a scam gaining traction involves fraudsters posing as family members on WhatsApp and asking to borrow money. If you get a message like this, don’t reply with the requested amount; take time to contact the actual family member through other means of communication.

Call back

Fraudsters can override caller ID, so even if a call appears to come from your bank or another credible source, it may not be trustworthy. If you weren’t expecting the call and are unsure of the caller’s identity, hang up immediately and reach out to the company using their official phone number. Similarly, if somebody requests money from you through text or email or says their payment information has changed, you should double-check by calling them back on a known number.

Ignore links

No matter who the sender is, do not click on links in texts or emails until you are sure they are legitimate.

Block spam calls with VoIP.ms

VoIP.ms has a fantastic feature called Digital Receptionist that allows you to block those pesky spam calls we all dread. Using the feature is easy– log into your VoIP.ms account at www.voip.ms, and upload a recording of your choice for callers to hear when they dial your number.

In your VoIP.ms customer portal, head over to DID Numbers at the top of the page, scroll through the drop-down menu to Recordings and click. The recordings page will open. Click on the Upload New Recording button. Give it a name such as “Spam Filter Message,” and select the file to upload from your computer. Click on the Upload button. If you don’t want to create a recording, you can use VoIP.ms sample recording instead.

The recording would be something like this:

“Hey! This is John; I am filtering automated spam calls. To get connected with me, press One.”

Next, you will need to create a Digital Receptionist to filter your calls. Head to DID Numbers, scroll to Digital Receptionist and click Create New IVR. Give it a name like “Spam Filter,” then select the recording you uploaded in the previous step.

After your caller enters a number on their phone as instructed by your recording, you need to set what will happen next. Make sure the option you configure matches the voice recording you uploaded. In this example, in the first digit box, we will set up the digit 1 and then set the routing to a Call Forwarding that redirects all the calls to your cell phone.

In the next digit field, write “t,” which means time out. This option will send the caller to the selected route once the timeout period has passed. Since the objective is to block spam calls, select System and the Hang Up option. Finally, in the last digit field, add the letter “i”, which means invalid. This will allow you to determine what happens if a caller presses a number not previously configured.

Let’s select the routing to Voicemail option. While this is not mandatory, it is a good idea to do so in the event that somebody doesn’t pay attention to your recording. Once done, click the Save the IVR button.

Now that the spam filter has been created, you simply need to apply it to your numbers. To do so, head to DID Numbers and scroll down to Manage DIDs. Edit your number by clicking on the orange pen icon. Choose the Spam Filter option you created. Once done, scroll down and save your changes by clicking on the “Click here to apply changes” button.


Stay alert to potential scams, and never share sensitive information until you are sure who you are communicating with. Remember that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Always double-check the caller’s identity before giving out any information. By setting up a spam filter, you can control who calls your numbers and make sure any suspicious activity is blocked. With VoIP.ms Digital Receptionist, you can filter suspicious calls and enjoy peace of mind.

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