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Sunday June 30, 2013

Recipe for disaster

KUCHING: Throw a gullible person with a longing for love and an insatiable appetite to get rich over night in the cauldron of social networks on the Internet and what you will get is a recipe for disaster.

These factors are the most common reasons why people have fallen again and again for online scams, which often leads to huge financial losses and shame besides the heartbreak of finding out that the person you trusted was just a facade.

Sadly, most of the victims of such scams are women, including those married with children.

According to statistics from the Sarawak Commercial Crimes Department, 131 women have reported such cases from 2010 to May this year, compared to only 66 men. The amount of losses in the total 197 cases is about RM6.8mil.

And do not think that the victims are just young innocent girls because while the youngest was 19 years old, the oldest was in her 60s.

The department’s head Supt Firdaus Abdullah said it was usually the combined factors of sweet promises of romance and love as well as greed that got the better of victims.

“Parcel scams, as these frauds are known by, are synonymous with romance and love scams because victims are almost always lured into having a romantic relationship with the scammer who will use all kinds of methods to deceive them,” he told The Star.

“There is also the element of greed, as victims will be taken in by promises of large returns from investments and so on.”

He added: “From our records, victims come from all walks of life. Some are educa- ted professionals such as engineers, lawyers, accountants, lecturers and teachers. Even with all the media publicity surrounding these scams, there are still those who fall for them.

“My advice is to always be alert, think rationally when forming relationships online and to consult with trusted family members or friends.”

Recently, Supt Firdaus’s department had uncovered one of the biggest online scams this year in Sarawak when a 34-year-old beautician, who is married, reported that she had lost over RM1.3mil to a man she met in an Internet dating website.

It turned out that the man, who used the profile photo of a caucasian on the website, was a group of people believed to be led by nine Nigerians — eight students and a businessman — who were arrested in Kuala Lumpur.

Besides the Nigerians, the police arrested two locals soon after the beautician lodged her report on April 22 and last week detained six others who are all locals and all women. The local women are suspected to be accessory to the crime.

Supt Firdaus explained that while there were syndicates involved, they were not interconnected and consisted of mostly foreigners, with locals also making up a fair number of suspects.

In this respect, he said the police needed timely help from banks and telecommunications operators to help speed up investigations.

“There are typically ‘account mules’ among the suspects ­— people who allow their bank accounts to be used for illegal purposes.

“If there is an abnormal amount of transactions taking place in an account, it should raise a flag with the bank, who in turn should come to us.

“If the bank could help us by providing account information on the suspects immediately, instead of having to wait four or five days for them to clear the information, it would help immensely in aiding with the investigation of these cases,” he explained.

Meanwhile, Welfare, Women and Family Development Minister Datuk Fatimah Abdullah urged women to be more wary of newfound friends online or through social networks.

“Not all of these ‘friends’ online are sincere or trustworthy. Be especially cautious when they ask for money, no matter what story they may tell you.

“Talk to your family or trusted friends when in doubt about the authenticity of whatever story these people may tell you, and to get their opinion. Remember if the person is sincere, he should come forward in person,” she advised.

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