Perak, the silver state for retirees looking to settle into a final home, must go all-out to ensure that the Senior Citizens Bill to be tabled in the Parliament next year grants oldies sufficient financial protection from online vultures ready to skin them to the bone.
Financial abuse of senior citizens, conducted via handphone and ATM, is a rapidly growing problem in Malaysia and may have driven some oldies to an earlier death. Seniors are the main targets as they are easier to fool, but youngsters have also been fleeced. Just four months ago, a 19-year-old Ipoh student lost RM37,000 that he inherited from his late mother.
He was a victim of the worst form of malicious trickery, the so-called Macao Scam that never gets the attention of Parliament because MPs think it is beyond our national jurisdiction. But the Macao Scam is a Malaysian product, just like Timah whiskey.
Some parliamentarians have shouted for the name Timah to be changed, but no parliamentarian has even questioned the name Macao Scam despite the fact that it is Malaysian and its name has served as a camouflage for a very serious local crime — certainly far more serious than the occasional drinking or gambling.
This column has in the past called for the name Macao Scam to be changed, but to no avail. Parliamentarians, instead, chose to shine the spotlight on the name for a brand of whiskey and the result was that every bottle of Timah got sold. MPs went tipsy for days over Timah, but not a moment was spent on debating the Macao Scam.
The name should be changed to Jail Fear Scam. When you change its name to one that more accurately reflects the character of this scam, you set the alarm bells ringing and the public is more alerted.
What is the Macao Scam or Jail Fear Scam? Your handphone rings and the caller tells you that your documents have been found in a crime investigation and you have been named as an accomplice. You face immediate detention to facilitate investigations. This is one ruse out of many. Scammers strike fear by impersonating officials from the police, customs, immigration, tax office, courts, banks, and even PosLaju.
To extricate yourself, you have to transfer a big sum of money to persons designated by the authorities to receive the cash required for auditing purposes or as bail and this money will be returned to you once your name has been cleared. You are instructed to keep these calls strictly confidential so as not to implicate others.
Police say that Macao Scam syndicates bagged more than a quarter billion ringgit in 6,000 hauls last year, an average of RM48,000 per haul. And what’s their capital outlay? Just the call centre expenses and phone charges for making several thousand calls a day.
In a huge case earlier this year, a 60-year-old woman was scammed of RM1.3 million. Last year a 66-year-old woman was duped of RM1.8 million in a con that persisted for several months, and a 74-year-old woman lost almost RM1 million over a period of four months that spanned 2020-21. A 76-year-old woman sent RM1.8 million to a fake policeman over a period of one month last year. Usual cases are less than RM100,000.
Every granny is in danger. So is grandpa. Scammers pick on them because they have accumulated savings through the years and have money in EPF that can be withdrawn any day. They also have relatives to borrow money from.
Under existing laws, you’re on your own when you get a scam call. All that the police can do is to keep advising the public to look out for telltale signs of a scam such as a request that you transfer cash to bank accounts unknown to you. It is only when you realise that you have been duped and make a commercial crime report that the police can swing into action. But your money is already gone and won’t come back.
Police advisories to the public run up against the law of averages. Every salesperson knows that if you make 100 cold calls, at least one call will produce a sale. In the case of senior citizens, a scammer’s success rate is easily 2%. What advice can you give a lamb to save it, if a pack of lions has already got it cornered? The lions don’t want to eat 100 animals, just one or two aging lambs will be enough for the day.
A scammer works in a team like the lions do, with members posing as higher-ups or as colleagues in another agency. He talks convincingly because he has a prepared script and he is trained in the art of persuasion and the dark skill of instilling hypnotic fear. He has vast experience honed through making hundreds, if not thousands of calls.
He is also in his youthful 20s or 30s, with an agile brain. The moment he gets you into a corner, you’re finished — you with a slow aging brain, high respect for and trust in authority figures, and fear of dying in jail.
Just as only the park rangers can save a lamb from the lions, only the telcos and banks can save an oldie from the scammers. The scammer talks to you through a handphone line, and the loot flows through the banking system. If there is no line and no cash transfer, there is no scam. All that the MPs have to do is to ensure that the Senior Citizens Bill contains a provision for telcos and banks to be penalised for every successful scam.
Such a legal provision will compel telcos and banks to install artificial intelligence devices to prevent scammers from abusing their facilities. Scammers work according to a pattern. AI can easily detect these patterns of operation and trace the source. It can then send an automatic alert to the police for a raid to be launched. If the cops are fast, they can gatecrash into the scammers’ call centre even while the scam is in progress.
As for the convicted scammers, the penalty should be revised upwards to life imprisonment as a scam comprises multiple offences including severe fraud with a potential to cause psychological depression or death resulting from it, impersonating officials for criminal purposes, and abusing telco and banking facilities.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of Ipoh Echo.