Connexion: Save your mother from scams

By Joachim Ng

Do you want your children’s grandmother scammed of her entire life savings and come to you for a loan in a hurry? She won’t tell you why she needs the money, but you dutifully give her your hard-earned cash that will never be returned. 

Every day at least one grandmother is banking in money through the ATM to a fake sergeant who sounds concerned for granny and will ease her fears, so long as she keeps sending money across — RM10,000 today, RM20,000 tomorrow, RM30,000 the next day until RM250,000 is reached before her mind wakes up from the hypnosis.

A recent case disclosed by the police 10 days ago is that of a 76-year-old woman who was duped of RM1.84 million. She withdrew all her life savings, pawned her jewellery, and borrowed heavily from family members. Other victims have been known to be so heavily tele-hypnotised that they cleaned out all their possessions and tried borrowing from everyone they knew to give away as much as RM5 million. 

While the police constantly remind the public to be wary of phone scams, the brutal fact is that statistically if one million people get scam calls there will be at least 50,000 victims. This is the smallest number and is a statistical reality. Grannies are easy victims because tele-hypnosis is particularly effective on older folks with grandchildren. The fear of never seeing the little kids again will make any granny draw out all her money.

You assume that it is the police who must catch these scammers, especially since they are impersonating the sergeants and inspectors. But the police will only know of a case when a granny shows up at the station empty-pocketed and sobbingly tells her story. By then, the scammers may have already transferred all the cash to a foreign land and have gone on a fabulous overseas vacation.

Hearing that there is no hope of recovering the money and repaying her debts, the granny may slip into depression, her immune system may crash, and she may even succumb to COVID-19 should more misfortune befall her. But you could save your mother and all the grannies from such scam woes.

Scamming is the easiest crime to detect because it operates on a fixed pattern. An invariable element is that the original caller is merely a connector posing as an employee of Pos Laju/tax dept/some other corporation who passes their victims to a fake sergeant. This fake sergeant then introduces his investigating officer “Inspector Heng/Hisham/Haridas” before proceeding with the scam. 

In another case revealed by the police, also in August, the scammers deployed one entire battalion of fake traffic cops — Sergeant Azila, Tuan Hisham, Inspector Chong, and Puan Yong. The victim must have unknowingly run down a family of tigers on Highway One.

Another fixed element in the pattern is that a granny will be advised to keep all these conversations strictly private and confidential to protect the family, as she has been named as an accomplice by a high-level suspect in custody for drug trafficking or money laundering. 

Granny faces time in jail as the confession against her will be accepted by the judge. But the sergeant and his inspector are sympathetic because granny is pleading that she needs to see her grandchildren one more time before she languishes behind bars. So they assure granny that matters will be settled if she transmits RM250,000 through the ATM to various bank accounts owned by government appointees designated to receive such moneys, which will all be returned to granny when her name is cleared.

Why ATM? That’s to make sure granny doesn’t meet anyone in the bank. The scammer also requires granny to call him every hour of the day from 9.00am to 9.00pm to report her whereabouts and activities. Even the notorious CIA doesn’t go to this extent of spying.

Who can stop all these scammers in their tracks? It’s so obvious: the banks and telcos. They should already be using anti-scam AI (artificial intelligence) to flush out these death-dealing criminals. This is not done as telcos depend on call volume and banks depend on transaction volume. It’s not in their financial interest to reduce traffic.

AIs do their job best when there is an easily detectable fixed pattern — the very characteristic of scamming that makes it child’s play for AI to detect. Spotting a scam while it’s in progress is kindergarten stuff for an AI device that will cost just the price of a Proton.

For banks, the scam pattern is even more easily detectable. Why would granny send big sums of money to so many accounts every week? And through the ATM, to boot. It’s such a big giveaway that a junior AI detective can do the job using only half its chips.

Banks and telcos won’t deploy AI detectives because nobody is cracking the whip on them. The next scam victim may be your mother. If you want to save your children’s granny from scam-induced life-threatening depression, do something now. Bring up the matter to Ismail Sabri, our Senior Minister and COVID fighter. He seems to be the only Minister carrying a whip.

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