KUALA LUMPUR: Veteran actress and singer Azza Elite parted with RM10,000 to an agency after a domestic helper showed no interest in carrying out the task of caring for her child.
"During the movement control order, only one person was allowed to leave home besides those who were allowed to work at the office. I was looking for a domestic helper to take care of my child, but to my shock, the one who reported for work was not what I expected,” she said.
Azza, or Nor Azzarima Zawari, 44, is among the many victims who had been duped by domestic helper scam syndicates, whose modus operandi was to offer domestic helpers amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.
Those who were hoodwinked by syndicates engaged in human trafficking and exploitation of domestic workers, were devastated by their experience, especially after losing thousands of ringgit to these scammers.
Contrary to expectations
"According to the terms, I requested for a domestic helper aged 40 and above who could take care of my child. But the agency gave me a 70-year old who was not interested in taking care of my child,” said Azza, a former member of all-girl group Elite,when contacted by Bernama recently.
The domestic helper only worked for three days and Azza then immediately acted by sending the Indonesian back to the agency. Much to her disgust, the agency not only failed to offer a replacement, but her money was not refunded.
After her experience, Azza was crestfallen. There was no point crying over spilt milk, she thought, but decided to share her experience on Instagram and after her story went viral on social media, the agency reimbursed her with a small amount.
"My advice to those who are looking for domestic helpers, be wary of unscrupulous agents. Ask and get more information from friends who have hired domestic helpers through reliable and registered agents”, said Azza, who now manages her four-year old adopted son, Muhammad Adam, with her husband Azlan Zulaily, 35.
Not a new issue
Besides Azza, there are many others who have been deluded by such scam syndicates.
Recently, a married couple lost RM30,000 within 12 minutes after being scammed by a domestic cleaning service company. Their deposits disappeared from their bank account after making arrangements for the cleaning service.
Commenting on the issue, Dr Samir Muhazzab Amin, Community Social Work senior lecturer at Universiti Putra Malaysia's (UPM) Social and Development Sciences Department, said the smuggling of migrant domestic workers was not a new issue.
He said although there was no actual data of recorded cases so far, media reports showed that human trafficking or migration, especially domestic helper scams, were thriving during the pandemic, with many victims sharing their bitter experiences on social media.
"During the Covid-19 pandemic, all sectors involving foreign workers were badly hit. As an example, the construction and hospitality sectors were also upended by the crisis as the government despatched all foreign workers to their respective homelands, with the domestic workers’ sector, among the hardest hit.
"While many people were working from home (WFH) in the early phase of the MCO, the government later opened up the business and service sectors in stages following the reopening of the economic and social sectors in May 2020 (after Phase One of MCO).
"This indirectly created high demand (for manpower). High demand and low supply attracts scammers. The high demand for domestic help was triggered by the reopening of the working sector, given the long period of MCO enforced from 2020 to 2021,” he added.
Describing the syndicates’ activities as worrying, especially after the reopening of national borders from April 1, Samir Muhazzab said it was difficult to detect the crime as the buying and selling transaction was conducted online.
"Human trafficking activities can take place at the domestic level and transcend boundaries as they involve the elements of exploitation, manipulation and threats on the victims concerned. The smuggling of migrants refers to cross-border activities, whether voluntarily or forced.
"In the context of selling domestic helpers, I think it’s more of smuggling of migrants and at the same time, it involves the human trafficking issue,” he said, adding that, although human trafficking of domestic helpers was voluntary in nature, it is still an offence under the law.
There are two tactics employed by these syndicates to deceive victims who need the services of domestic helpers.
"Through the first approach, the syndicate uses domestic helpers who are working abroad by sending their photos and passports through WhatsApp.
"The WhatsApp number is foreign. This is a ploy to convince the would-be employer that the transaction is genuine.
"They will later inform the domestic helper to be prepared to take the next flight but all airfares should be covered by the employer. The costs include flight ticket and health check, PCR test for Covid-19, etc and these costs had to be debited earlier to them as deposit,” he explained.
Under the second modus operandi, these syndicates would dupe victims by showing the photo and passport of the domestic helper who is working abroad before the victim pays about RM6,000 to RM12,000 to them.
"After two weeks or after receiving her first monthly salary, the maid will run away. This is all part of the agent’s plan, who will then share the money deposited by the employer with the domestic helper.
"The syndicate will then send the domestic helper to the employer’s house as they do not want the latter to know the location where they conduct their operations.
"It seems like that they are providing a good service as they even send the maid to the house but in actual fact, it makes it easier to conduct their scam activities,” he said, adding that similar modus operandi was used to swindle other victims.
Beef up enforcement
He opines that the authorities should beef up enforcement in cracking down on domestic helper trafficking activities, noting that it is feared that such crimes could severely impact the economic and health sectors as well as national security.
"From the economic perspective, job opportunities for Malaysians are taken over by foreign workers. Health-wise, it would be difficult to control the spread of contagious diseases brought in by the foreign workers,” he said.
Samir Muhazzab said foreign workers usually build their homes in squatter areas under cramped and squalid living conditions, with poor drainage, improper solid waste disposal system as well as poor garbage disposal system that adversely affect the environment.
The poor living conditions are breeding grounds for diseases such as dengue that are easily transmissible and difficult to contain.
"Due to the poor garbage system, rubbish is thrown from the windows of their homes. Some may even burn the garbage, which is a source of air pollution.
"At the same time, those who are illegal immigrants do not have access to the Covid-19 vaccines, hence our overall herd immunity is also affected.
"As an example, Malaysia has been declared free from tuberculosis for a long period of time, but due to the influx of foreign workers, the disease has re-emerged,” he added.
He said most foreign workers who came to Malaysia worked as labourers with poor hygienic culture.
"Our national security is also at stake given the rampant criminal activities that could adversely affect the quality of life of the local people.
"Thefts and robberies are also high in areas dwelled by foreign workers arising from poor living conditions. At the same time, gangsters are also present among foreign workers to protect the welfare of the respective groups,” he alleged. - Bernama