By Joachim Ng
If you’re not shocked by what the police have recently disclosed, then perhaps you will be shocked that no effective national effort has been taken to save families losing all their money to scammers who seem to be targeting everyone.
Thousands of Malaysians lose billions of ringgit to scammers each year, and the victims are no longer just the elderly. The scam is now affecting younger people including professionals with school-going children. At this rate, many parents will soon have no means left to send their children to university.
Last month, a 35-year-old woman lost RM106,500 and a 46-year-old clerk was conned of RM108,500. A 49-year-old teacher deposited a whopping RM1,132,475 to the bank accounts of scammers, and a 40-year-old furniture trader lost RM93,000. These are just the bigger highlighted cases.
The takings are so lucrative that scammers can afford to rent top-of-the-world plush apartments where they install state-of-the-art digital gadgetry. All they have to do is make 100 calls a day to mobile numbers that they have bought. By the way, are you aware that your personal data is on sale despite the country having a Personal Data Protection Act that has been in force some years already? PDPA should be renamed the Personal Data Profitable Activity.
Last month, Deputy Inspector General of Police Datuk Seri Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani revealed that 14,000 cases were reported in the first nine months of this year. Last year, the losses suffered by scam victims amounted to RM2.5 billion.
Although the police keep reminding the public to be wary of answering calls from unknown numbers, they are up against a statistical reality. Every salesman works on the basis that if you prospect 100 potential buyers, 5 will become your customers. It’s statistically guaranteed that he will get a 5% response rate.
Scammers, however, use tele-hypnotic methods that guarantee them a higher percentage response. What are these tele-hypnotic methods and why are they so effective on Malaysians? They revolve around three basic psychological truths: (1) we fear going to jail; (2) we seldom share our problems with others; (3) we focus on our own interests.
Fear of jail
The scammer poses as a law enforcement officer to strike fear. He tells you that you will be put in jail because some high-level fraudster arrested by the police has named you as an accomplice. The desperation to avoid going to jail makes you inclined to give away your money to settle the issue.
It is wrong to keep referring to this crime as the Macao Scam because this gives the impression to the public that it only happens in Macao. Stop anyone in the street and ask him what he knows about the Macao Scam. He will reply that he has never been to Macao. Call a spade a spade. Call it the Jail Scam.
The scammers know that Malaysians tend to be quite secretive and don’t communicate their problems that much. So victims are cautioned to keep the matter strictly confidential, and hence no one can break the spell for them. Scammers are clever at earning the trust of their victims by convincing them they are the only help they need to get through their false predicament.
Focus on self-interest
Perhaps there is little-to-no community uproar over these scams because each person tends to think more of his own family’s welfare than that of others. This could be the reason why scams are not often discussed unless someone among one’s close circle of contact has been affected. In addition, corporations that can directly intercept scams such as telcos and banks are focused on making profits instead of deploying AIs to detect scams and hence protect the community.
We need dramatic action to avert the collapse of more families due to avoidable loss of money. Ipoh can lead the war against scammers by requesting the appointment of one of its great sons, Tan Sri Datuk Lee Lam Thye, an old boy of St Michael’s Institution, to chair a national anti-scam task force. Tan Sri Lee is senior vice-chairman of the Malaysia Crime Prevention Foundation.
The task force should comprise the police, Ministry of Finance, Malaysian Communications & Multimedia Commission, all mobile phone companies, all banks, community representatives, media representatives, and concerned parliamentarians. Why parliamentarians? They are needed to revise the penalty for scamming to life imprisonment and whipping.
Will such a task force come about? If you push your MP to propose it, very likely yes. If no task force is set up, you just have to wait your turn to be called — by a scammer. Get set for a battle of your mind versus his tricks.