By Joachim Ng
Your handphone — that indispensable gadget for instant communication — is also doubling up as a weapon of self-destruction. Perakians are no strangers to this grotesque Jekyll and Hyde character of the modern world’s greatest talk piece.
When your mobile rings, beware. This time it may be a call from the Underworld Sergeant or Inspector with a hypnotic voice pronouncing doom on you and yet offering to save you. With your handhone number in his possession — the devil knows from whom he bought your data — the Underworld Sergeant or Inspector has you at his mercy.
Young and old, he rakes them into hell. At age 19 your brain should be alert, right? But it’s no match for any scammer who turns your phone into a weapon to destroy you. A student in Bercham inherited RM37,000 from his late mother’s EPF savings to further his studies. The money went no further than the pockets of a scam syndicate that instructed him to transfer the money to clear his name of a crime allegation.
At age 32, you should be able to sense a scam, right? Wrong. The Underworld character on the line will convince you that he is a police sergeant, because his forte lies in his ability to undermine your thought processes. A restaurant waiter in Teluk Intan froze when told he could be arrested for cheating, and must pay to settle the case. He transferred RM94,000 to the scammer.
Perhaps at age 72, you have wised up to all the crooks. Uncle, you’re the easiest to con. A retiree in Hilir Perak was accused of money laundering and drug trafficking. To get off the hook, transfer RM60,000. He did. A mechanic — down-to-earth guy — was told he had committed an offence at the Ampang Baru health clinic in Ipoh and was being investigated for money laundering. He transferred RM70,000 to avoid being arrested.
There are seven reasons for the prevalence of this crime that turns your handphone into a weapon of self-destruction. First reason: police label it the Macao Scam and so almost nobody reads their advisories. The daily newspapers fall in line and also call it the Macao Scam.
When you read a news headline that says, “Man loses RM140,000 in Macao scam,” you say to yourself: “Serve him right for visiting a Macao casino.” Without reading further you flip to another page. That’s what you do to the police advisories.
For everybody’s sake, call it the Handphone Jail Scam because that’s what it is. The scammer calls you on handphone and informs you there is a warrant for your arrest and you have to spend years in jail. It’s not a Macao scam; it’s a scam happening right here. The name is important. Keep hearing about the Macao scam, and you will never want to visit Macao. That’s the only precaution you will take.
Second reason for the growth of these scams: the telcos are not investing heavily enough in AI devices to block all scam calls. Scammers are using technology that is superior to and capable of breaching the current defences. When a call gets through to you, the striker will most likely score. You are just a lone deer facing a gang of trained predators. It’s 3 vs 1. These three are professional liars who use hypnotic techniques.
As you are no match for them, here’s what you must do. Limit your handphone usage. Buy the cheapest package as a form of silent protest. Do not be so talkative over the handphone. Reserve long chats for the coffee table. If the phone rings and it’s an unknown number, wait 10 seconds so that your brain can go into alert mode. Don’t rush to say hello. Let the caller speak first. If the caller sounds authoritative, it’s the first clue.
Authoritative and frightening: third reason why scammers are doing so well. Nobody wants to be arrested and thrown into a police lockup, because everyone has heard fearful stories about gross overcrowding in the lockups. Unless jail conditions improve, scam victims will rather accept the scammers’ solution than risk police detention.
Loose banking procedures are the fourth reason why scams are so easy to pull off. Money transfers are too easy. Every bank customer develops a pattern of money transfers such as paying utility bills, instalments, remittances, or regular donations. Banks know your pattern. Yet Malaysian banks have not installed the auto “kill switch” AI device to interrupt transfers that break the pattern.
If you send RM10,000 to an account that you have never dealt with before, it’s a possible scam and the “kill switch” should turn on to interrupt the transfer while a bank AI device calls you to check the identity of the intended recipient. Scam transfers are usually broken into many tranches stretching over days and sometimes weeks. This gives the bank many opportunities to verify authenticity. Are banks doing enough to protect you?
The fifth reason for the surge in scam calls is that there is no political interest in this crime. Despite the fact that one state assemblyman in Kelantan has been conned of RM84,000 the subject is rarely raised in the legislative houses. The laws should include punitive measures on negligent telcos and banks as well as optional capital punishment for scammers who cause death of victims through depression or suicide.
The sixth reason for scam prevalence is the thick smog of dishonesty enveloping Malaysian society. Back in the 1960s everybody sang: “Climb every mountain.” Today everybody sings: “Cash is King.” Your personal data has been sold and resold uncountable times. Who is tracking down the sellers? Has anyone been arrested?
Besides the Handphone Jail Scam, there are also crooks getting rich in job scams, investment scams, commission scams, maid scams, and food supply scams to name just a few. Not forgetting the ubiquitous corruption in high, low, and middle places.
The seventh reason is your character: do you like to be secretive and keep things to yourself? This is a character weakness that the scammer exploits to the full. He tells you to go to a secluded place to talk whenever he calls you. He warns you to keep all your conversations with him private and confidential. Do not share this secret even with your loved ones. So nobody knows, and nobody can advise you that you are being scammed.
Turn your life into an open book. Tell your family members and close friends what you do and what’s been happening to you and around you. Tell them about the phone calls you get from strangers. Let them know. They will in turn share their lives with you. This way you form a circle of protective light to shield you from the enveloping smog of evil.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Ipoh Echo