Chinese-Americans Receive Phone Threats

May 22, 2009

Investigations are underway across the United States of telephone threats to Chinese-Americans.

Audio Transcript

Mr. Schiff: Hello I’m Neal Schiff and welcome to Inside the FBI, a weekly podcast about news, cases, and operations. Investigations are underway across the United States of telephone threats to Chinese-Americans.

Mr. Phillips: “We really hope that they’ll reach out to their law enforcement; local law enforcement to report it. They can also reach out to their local FBI office; we’ve got 56 field divisions across the country.”

Mr. Schiff: That’s FBI Special Agent Dean Phillips. He’s the Chief of the Asian-African Criminal Enterprise Unit in the Organized Crime Section which is part of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division.

Mr. Phillips: “ What we’ve seen so far is a number of phone calls to primarily Chinese business owners. The phone calls are coming in and threatening bodily harm to them or their family members.”

Mr. Schiff: Any thoughts on where these calls are coming from and and who might be doing it?

Mr. Phillips: “It seems like right now that the calls are being made through Voiceover Internet Protocol and the calls actually would be actually originating from China .”

Mr. Schiff: Are we aware that these calls are human to human or are they recorded calls coming in to people here in this country?

Mr. Phillips: “The description of the phone calls from victims, it sounds like it’s actually a person-to-person conversation. It’s not a recorded call. It’s a conversation like you and I would be having .”

Mr. Schiff: What are some of the things being said by those who are apparently in China to Chinese people here in this country?

Mr. Phillips: “It’s mostly threats of bodily harm to themselves or their family members .”

Mr. Schiff: We don’t know the source so we don’t know if it’s an organized thing coming from overseas or whether it’s just a few individuals doing this, right?

Mr. Phillips: “Well at this point we’re actually approaching it as organized crime simply because the volume of calls really requires several people to be involved. It isn’t just one or two people that could be doing all these phone calls. Furthermore, when you look at the activity itself—extortion, threats of violence—those are traditional organized crime, racketeering-type activities. And the purpose of which is certainly to gain money, go gain assets. And those are all definitions of what we call organized crime. So we’re looking at it right now as organized crime .”

Mr. Schiff: Any idea when these calls started and approximately how many calls like this have been made over the time period?

Mr. Phillips: “We started first hearing about these in early to mid-April and it was mostly on the West Coast. The San Francisco Division did a great job; they were the first to open something on that. And after that, a few weeks later, it really started moving into other cities across the country. And within the last couple of weeks it’s really been a flood across the country. Volume-wise we’re talking at least a thousand or more phone calls .”

Mr. Schiff: How does the FBI go about investigating these kinds of threatening phone calls coming from outside the United States?

Mr. Phillips: “Well as far as investigating agencies we certainly are going to be working closely with our local counterparts in various cities. In fact, again, back to San Francisco, this all started because of several local PD’s noticed a large call volume and it was really a regional meeting to discuss this problem where we first became aware of it. Because the calls are originating from overseas we’re going to have to reach out to our foreign counterparts and seek their help and assistance at some point. Between now and then we’re actually working very closely with our colleagues in the Cyber Division (FBI). We really need their assistance since at this point, because like I said earlier, it appears the calls are being made over Voiceover Internet Protocol .”

Mr. Schiff: Are there any monetary demands in these phone calls?

Mr. Phillips: “Yes the monetary demands have been anything from maybe $10,000 to $50,000. They’re usually round numbers, $10, $20, $30,000 .”

Mr. Schiff: Can you give us an example of kind of extortion or a threat, ‘if you don’t pay we’re going to do such and such?’

Mr. Phillips: “An example might be ‘you need to give us $20,000 or we’re going to beat up a family member,’ or ‘we’re going to kidnap a child or a sibling,’ something like that .”

Mr. Schiff: What areas of the country are we aware that a certain amount of these phone calls are coming in and growing as you indicated?

Mr. Phillips: “From coast to coast and north to south. It started primarily on the West Coast, San Francisco, then we started to see a few in Los Angeles; New York followed right on after that. Soon after, Boston picked up on, then we saw it in Philadelphia, Chicago, Dallas, Miami, all over the country .”

Mr. Schiff: We’re not aware of small towns being inundated with these calls right now, we are aware of the larger cities?

Mr. Phillips: “Absolutely. But that’s one of the questions we have and we’re trying to look into that because certainly in cities like that where you have maybe a large Chinese-immigrant population, you’re going to have a pool from which to draw upon if you’re going to make threatening phone calls. What we don’t know are small and mid-size cities. Are there victims in those cities as well? And we’re going to be reaching out trying to get the information out to a variety of law enforcement counterparts to try and look for that problem. We want to address the entire problem across the country rather just picking out the pockets; the ones that we’re currently aware of .”

Mr. Schiff: What if Chinese people around the country are getting these phone calls and threats from, apparently from China, what should people do?

Mr. Phillips: “We really hope that they’ll reach out to the law enforcement, local law enforcement to report it; they can also reach out to their local FBI office; we’ve got 56 field divisions across the country. We also have the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) which can be reached through the FBI’s web page, so victims could e-mail directly their complaints to the IC3 .”

Mr. Schiff: Don’t be afraid to call. The FBI is here for you day and night. Agents are working with police departments throughout the United States on these threatening phone calls to Chinese Americans. You can file a report on the Internet at or contact the nearest FBI office. That concludes our show. Thanks for listening. I’m Neal Schiff of the FBI’s Office of Public Affairs.

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