Learn to recognise scams so you won't be cheated, experts urge

KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama): The story of the Macau scam is all too familiar. The victim gets a phone call from an official-sounding person and is told he/she has outstanding loan payments or unpaid fines. The victim panics and willingly follows the instructions of the "official”, including transferring huge sums of money into another party's bank accounts, to supposedly “avoid getting into trouble”.

These scams and how they work have been widely reported in newspapers, news portals and social media, yet people continue to fall prey to scammers.

Just last week, the manager of a banking agency lost nearly RM2mil after she was tricked by a Macau scam syndicate member posing as a police officer. She was told that she had a previous criminal record involving a money-laundering case and was instructed to transfer money to a new bank account to "facilitate an investigation by Bank Negara”. The victim realised she was cheated after the money disappeared from the account.

Another similar case involved a teacher who lost nearly RM1.13mil after she was deceived by an individual impersonating a police officer. The victim was duped into believing that her vehicle was involved in an accident and that she was engaged in money-laundering activities.

News reports in August 2019 quoted the then Bukit Aman commercial crime investigations department director Datuk Seri Mohd Zakaria Ahmad as saying that thousands of Malaysians lose an average of RM2bil each year to Macau scams, e-commerce fraud and love scams, all committed through the Internet or phone calls.

Telecommunications fraud

In Malaysia, Macau scams are categorised as telecommunications fraud. According to criminologist and psychologist Associate Prof Dr Geshina Ayu Mat Saat, it is easy for people to fall victim simply because they do not realise they are being duped.

"The syndicate members are very cunning and disguise themselves as officers who sound authoritative over the phone and can make their victims feel anxious and panicky, as well as convince them that they need to protect themselves against any legal action,” she said.

She said these fraudsters not only appear to be credible but also use a visceral approach to evoke an emotional response from their victims who without further thought easily succumb to their threats and the pressure.

Geshina Ayu, who is a lecturer in forensic science at Universiti Sains Malaysia, said apathy among the public to familiarise themselves with the techniques employed by scammers was also among the factors why people continue to get conned.

She said in 2017, the police listed four different modus operandi of a Macau scam, namely, a lucky draw where the victims receive a phone call claiming that they had won millions of dollars in lucky draws; authority spoofing or impersonating a police officer or government officer; bank spoofing or impersonating a bank officer; and impersonating a kidnapper where the victim was told that his/her family member has been kidnapped and a ransom must be paid.

However, studies and official reports from outside Malaysia have shown that the modus operandi of these Macau scammers is much more extensive.

No matter what their modus operandi is, Geshina Ayu urged the public not to submit to the demands of these syndicates and reveal their personal particulars, especially their bank account numbers. The public, she added, should also regularly update or change the security settings of their personal computers and financial transaction websites.

She said the Federal Commercial Crime Investigation Department’s Semak Mule portal, launched last year, can be accessed by the public to check bank accounts or phone numbers that have been linked to criminal activities.

Money laundering

Besides Macau scams, money laundering – which refers to concealing the origins of money obtained illegally – is happening more regularly.

Last week, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) detained 10 individuals, including eight senior police officers, and seized RM100,000 in cash in connection with investigations into an online gambling, money laundering and Macau scam syndicate. It is believed that the police officers detained were protecting the syndicate concerned.

MACC chief commissioner Datuk Seri Azam Baki was reported as saying that they seized 730 bank accounts with funds totalling RM80mil belonging to the syndicate members, including celebrities. Also seized were 24 luxury cars believed to have been purchased with ill-gotten gains.

Lawyer Nor Zabetha Muhd Nor said the involvement of police officers in illegal activities – who may face charges under the Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act – can smear the integrity and reputation of the police.

She said police action against scammers and money launderers should match the rise in reports received by the authorities.

"Personally, I feel we have sufficient laws and penalties to deal with these issues but then the number of people being charged for committing such offences seems to be low.

"When more of such cases are investigated by the authorities and rightful action is taken, it will put more fear into the criminals,” she said, adding that letting the perpetrators go free will only encourage them to continue pursuing their immoral activities.

Potentially, scammers and money launderers can be charged under two Acts.

Under the Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act 2001 (Act 613), any person who (a) engages in or attempts to engage in; or (b) abets the commission of money laundering, shall on conviction be liable to a fine not exceeding five million ringgit or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 15 years or to both.

Under Section 420 of the Penal Code, whoever cheats and thereby dishonestly induces the person deceived to deliver any property to any person faces imprisonment for a term not less than one year and not more than 10 years and with whipping, and also be liable to a fine. – Bernama

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