People across North America have been receiving automated calls in Mandarin for months. Anecdotally, I can say that there are Canadians who receive as many as three calls with the same recorded message every week. Because phone calls in the age of texting are so rare, some people have even come to expect that familiar recorded voice every time the phone rings.
Your suspicions are correct: this is likely a scam. According to most reports, the call targets Chinese immigrants. The voice claims to represent Chinese consular figures in North America and threatens to complicate or revoke immigrant visas unless listeners pay a phony fine. North Americans have been receiving these or similar calls as early as the spring 2018.
Hundreds of people have taken to Twitter to voice their frustration with the frequency of the calls and warn others about the scam.
TLDR: Automated phone calls in Mandarin are likely a scam targeting Chinese immigrants in North America. Do not give out personal information over the phone to suspected scams. Contact appropriate authorities to report a scam.
I'm always super surprised when I get a phone call at work. Emails and skype are so much more common. In fact, I get more automated scam phone calls (always in Mandarin... I don't speak Mandarin) than actual legitimate ones.— Ur-Quan (@UrQuan778) March 8, 2019
I was getting calls in Mandarin for a good while, no idea what they were about until one day my friend who speaks it was with me. Literally threw the phone at him "WHAT ARE THEY SAYING?!" It was some kind of scam preying on fears of invalid visas :(— Mark Muller (@mlmit) March 7, 2019
Most are annoyed by the frequency of the calls.
Turned on a phone for the first time in 13 months: four voicemails. All scams, three in Mandarin— Dan Rosanova (@DanRosanova) February 4, 2019
Many feel powerless to respond.
To my Cantonese and Mandarin speaking friends...— Rex Poblete (@RAPP81) December 18, 2018
What offensive words can I yell into my phone when I get those ridiculous scam calls?
I look forward to the day I stop receiving Mandarin scam phone voicemails.— Kyla (@kylaer_) December 4, 2018
Earlier this month, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) published a "warning to refugee and immigrant communities about fraudulent calls," though it does not specifically mention calls in Mandarin. The calls are "escalating," according to the warning.
The CAFC has listed a number of points to raise awareness about the scam and help Canadians protect themselves:
1. Do not trust your call display. It may say "Police”. In reality, it may be an actual scammer. It does not matter what the caller ID says, you cannot trust it.
2. If you get an urgent call from someone stating they represent a company or a government agency seeking personal information, hang up. Call the phone number on your account statement, in the phone book or on the company or government agency's website to verify the authenticity of the request.
3. Never give out personal information in response to unexpected calls. This includes account numbers, social insurance number (SIN), mother's maiden name, passport information, passwords or any information about your identity.
If you live in Canada, contact appropriate authorities through the Spam Reporting Centre to report a scam or if you have any questions or concerns.