China's iPhone users hit by message scam that freezes device and demands payment to 'unlock account'

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 October, 2015, 3:16pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 October, 2015, 5:45pm

China’s Public Security Ministry has warned iPhone users to disregard a message asking them to “unlock account” as it’s a scam that gives hackers access to their device, mainland media has reported.

The notice came after a woman, surnamed Zheng and who lives in Taizhou in the eastern province of Zhejiang, was browsing the internet and the message popped up, according to news portal

When she clicked on it, the screen suddenly turned black, the phone reset itself, and when it came back on another message popped up saying the iPhone had been lost and she must contact customer service via an instant messaging account.

She did and was told the fee varied depending on the model of the phone. For her iPhone 6 plus, the cost was 500 yuan (HK$620).

Zheng was doubtful and called Apple’s customer service staff, who said her case wasn't unique and there was no fee to unlock iPhones.

The ministry posted the warning on its Twitter-like Weibo account on Saturday, urging people to click ‘cancel’, and change the password for their email and Apple ID.

The phones security would otherwise be compromised when users logged in with free Wi-fi, the report quoted the customer services staff as saying.

The scam appears identical to one perpetrated earlier this year in the US and Britain, an evolution of the "Microsoft Support Team" trick where people were called by fraudsters claiming the person's Windows operating system had become infected.

They convinced them to hand over their credit card details and passwords and then malware was installed on the victim's computer.

Online user forums report the alert often appears after users have been accessing websites using Safari, the default browser in iOS devices, and the messages should be handled as follow:

1) Put the phone in Airplane mode.
1) Go to Settings >> Safari
2) Click on Clear History and Website Data

All users of Apple devices are advised to exert good password and security habits.