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Spotting signs of scams

29 Oct 2022, The Star
IN AN era where information has become more accessible, scammers are concocting more cunning ruses to swindle unsuspecting victims of their savings.

According to figures from Bursa Malaysia, losses from reported scams amounted to RM5.2bil over a two-year period during the Covid-19 pandemic. And there were many more that went unreported.

Posing as government officials, employment agents or even potential lovers, these hoaxers deceive their victims in elaborate ways and can wipe out entire bank accounts in a matter of seconds.

To protect yourself from get-rich-quick schemes, “catfishers” or blackmailers – either online or on the streets – read on to learn about the 10 scams commonly used by fraudsters these days.

1. Social cybercriminals

Scammers on social media impersonate people or companies that are known to their victims, to get them to disclose their personal information.

Also known as “phishing”, these imposters may send online links and ask the unsuspecting person to click on them, to sign up for lucrative investment opportunities or win a prize from a competition they never even entered.

In most cases, these links are likely to corrupt devices by downloading ransomware which prohibits access until a fee is paid, or installing malware that gives the sender unlimited access to private information.

These cyberspace scammers can be identified by misspelt names with unusual characters, like a hyphen, underscore or other symbols.

2. Credit conmen

Credit card scams have become more sophisticated over time, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic when online payment became essential.

These financial fraudsters target their victims through email, call or texts, claiming that their cards have been overcharged and by offering to get refunds, they get their targets to reveal security information.

Scammers may also claim to be able to reduce credit card interest rates, by claiming they have connections to negotiate lower rates.

To be safe, any “cold calls” from an unrecognised company or number should be ignored.

Those who wish to reduce their credit card interest rates should call their respective credit card issuers directly.

3. SIM scammers

Mobile phone owners are likely to have received the odd phone call or text message indicating that, thanks to their SIM cards, they have won a competition held by their mobile telecommunication company.

These unwitting “prize winners” are made to believe that they have won an electric car or holiday abroad, and are then asked for their bank details to redeem the rewards.

New scams like SIM swapping have also been reported, where cyberattackers register a new SIM card as the victim’s new number and redirect incoming messages to the cyberattackers’ phones.

4. High risks and no returns

Investment scams lure gullible victims with too-good-to-be-true investment deals, promising higher returns or profits than those offered by authorised financial institutions.

Attackers will usually contact their victims through email, telephone or social media, captivating business-inclined hopefuls with investment deals that guarantee unrealistic interest rates with no risk.

The Star reported that the Securities Commission (SC) had stated that recent data showed investment scams were a prevalent issue in Malaysia, after capital market regulator received over 1,800 complaints and enquiries this year.

Industry professionals remind the public that legitimate investments will never guarantee profits unless they are fixed bank deposits or an insurance endowment plan. They must belong to a registered market operator and have a licence issued by the SC, say the experts.

5. Tele-tricksters

Macau scams usually start with a phone call from someone claiming to be from a government enforcement agency, debt collecting service or the police.

Victims are usually accused of having arrest warrants or outstanding debts, or informed that they have made numerous unsolicited bank withdrawals, and are then told to deposit large sums of money or share their bank account details with the scam caller.

The Star had reported that a 28-year-old civil servant allegedly lost RM468,000 after a Sabah “police officer” informed her she was involved in a money laundering scheme.

If you receive such calls, hang up and call the hotline of the respective government agency.

6. Swindler of savings

Through advertisements on social media, scammers may also impersonate officials from the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) to offer personal loans or financial relief for a premium fee.

For collateral, these “officers” will demand EPF funds as collateral, subsequently wiping out the life savings of the victims after the latter fail to repay debts accrued from absurdly high interest rates.

In a statement on its official website, EPF stated that it had identified social media ads that offered personal loans, using EPF money as collateral.

“These offers make room for third parties to take advantage of contributor’s savings,” the federal statutory body stated.

EPF embezzlers may also submit falsified documents and charge fees to prematurely withdraw savings, leaving victims susceptible to prosecution for submitting doctored applications.

In general, banks advise the public to seek personal loans with financial institutions directly, rather than engage with any unauthorised third parties.

7. Mean fake moneylenders

People who attain age 50, when they are eligible to withdraw savings from their EPF Account Two, are often targeted by scammers.

These scammers often claim to be licensed credit agencies under the Housing and Local Government Ministry, a Malay daily reported.

To give further credibility to their services, former “customers” post advertisements and videos on social media, vouching for the authenticity of these money lending companies.

In a The Star report on Sept 27, Bukit Aman stated that money lending scam syndicates might also begin targeting the younger demographic.

Often, loan scammers will ask for an upfront fee, card details or personal information before “processing loan applications”, forcing their victims to make quick decisions.

8. Cheated in love

Victims of love scams are usually older single women, divorcees and widows, who end up losing their life savings.

They are typically duped by scammers who create fake social accounts to lure victims with false identities – a practice called “catfishing”.

The scam is usually orchestrated over a longer period of time, whereby charismatic conmen charm women through dating sites and social media.

This, however, isn’t exclusive to women as men are also known to have fallen prey to such scammers.

Once the scammer has established a “romantic relationship” with their target, they will coax their victim into sending to them large sums of money, citing a sudden emergency or overwhelming health issues.

In a previous report, The Star reported that police recorded 1,747 commercial crime cases between January and July, 90% of which involved online fraud including love scams.

While online dating is generally harmless, always be wary of interactions with faceless individuals and be on the alert when receiving requests for money.

9. Preying on job seekers

Job scam syndicates are highly organised crime units that deceive job seekers – through social media ads –into believing there is lucrative work for them abroad.

Job scammers have also been known to hold victims captive, forcing them to commit cyber fraud.

On Oct 5, The Star reported the rescue of 261 Malaysians who had been stranded in Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar and Laos after being victimised by job scams.

It was also reported on Sept 21 that the Foreign Ministry agreed to establish a special committee dedicated to tackling job scams recruiting Malaysians.

To avoid being ensnared by employment scams, job seekers are advised to perform thorough background checks on the potential employers, ensuring that they have reputable references, reviews and a credible social presence.

10. Friend or foe

Friends can be fraudsters, too – these folk may ask to use their victims’ bank accounts in order to receive money from a third party.

In reality, mule account scammers facilitate ecommerce scams or money laundering schemes through their targets’ accounts to avoid detection, leaving their victims liable for prosecution.

Victims are also often persuaded to open multiple bank accounts, receiving a substantial fee for each account.

In a Sept 27 report, The Star quoted Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani as saying that such scams were on the rise.

“We are cooperating with banking institutions to ensure investigations, especially those involving mule accounts, to be completed faster,” he said.

The Commercial Crime Investigation Department also urges people to use the SemakMule app, which allows one to check if an account has had any reports made against it.

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