Connexion: Scams that pay you first, then strangle you

By Joachim Ng

Xiang Xin, a retiree living on savings built up over years of working life in Taiping, thought one morning that an angel was bringing him to a river flowing with silver coins. A stranger claiming to be from the human resources dept of an advertising and social media services company messaged him on WhatsApp to offer him a lucrative work-from-handphone job.

All Xiang Xin had to do was help create a following for products retailed by the company’s merchant clients. For each completed task done on YouTube, whether posting star ratings or hitting the “subscribe” button, he would be paid RM10. Money would be banked into his account each time he accumulated RM100 earnings. The stranger created a chatline with a picture showing herself as a young, long-haired, and beautiful lady. Cool.

After making RM400 over two days in January, Xiang Xin pledged complete belief in his new angelic friend. Now the angel told him he was being promoted to a higher level of earnings and needed to start by investing RM100 in a forex/cryptocurrency platform. For his investment Xiang Xin received RM130 in return. That’s the cool life with an angel.

Then the angel struck, with a requirement that Xiang Xin invest RM500 for the next forex/cryptocurrency task. This harder task would take a number of steps to complete. Xiang Xin calculated that RM500 was a small risk as he had already earned RM430. However, at the 4th step of this new task he was asked to bank in another RM1,000.

Now, for the first time, Xiang Xin began to entertain doubts. Nevertheless, his belief in the angel held and he banked in RM1,000. Three steps later, he was asked to invest another RM2,000. Xiang Xin’s trust in the angel shattered and he refused to obey as there could be yet another call for a further investment.

For his failure to go through all the steps and complete the assignment, Xiang Xin was told sternly that his RM1,500 had been entirely forfeited with zero compensation. He was further informed later that he had been sacked from his job as a marketing associate.

All along the way, Xiang Xin ignored some clues that this was a scam marketing gig. He should have been suspicious why he was not asked to prove that he had posted his ratings for the selected merchant products upon completion of each of these easy tasks. You can rate a product 5-star, but if you don’t post it up nobody gets to see it.

Xiang Xin ignored the clues because he had become an unquestioning believer. He believed fully. All scams utilise the power of belief. The scammer wins you over with a convincing start. In Xiang Xin’s case, it was the image of an angelic lady conveyed by the picture and the initial quick money rolling in. When belief takes firm hold over your mind, you will be led to your doom.

Xiang Xin lost only RM1,070 but police disclosed on February 6 that another victim of a similar but riskier online job scam lost RM53,000. The 41-year-old victim had to first make a RM300 payment that was refunded with a RM90 reward. Having won her unquestioning belief, the scammer now asked her for higher doses of investment spread out through 10 payments to four bank accounts.

A scam may also rip off your savings by offering you great discounts for product purchases. You are asked to deposit money to purchase items such as watches, gym equipment, video games, and jewellery at 50% discount. You receive the products and realise that you can resell them for a hefty profit. So you put in a much bigger deposit. At that point the scammer gives you the Judas kiss and betrays your trust.

Health scams are the strongest indication of how widespread dishonesty has become. Just two weeks ago, a retiree disclosed that a fake clinic got hold of his medical record including his heart condition and offered him a free screening. He suspected that he would be lured into buying a RM10,000 healthcare package.

The bigger concern here is that employees of institutions in the public, semi-public, and private sectors are selling personal data to scammers. This is happening despite the existence of a Personal Data Protection Act. It means that cybersecurity measures are very weak, probably because institutions don’t want to spend on these non-profitable measures. It’s not their company data that is being stolen; it’s only your personal data.

In mid-2022, Inspector-General of Police revealed that from 2020 to May 2022, there were 71,833 reported commercial crime cases with losses totalling more than RM5.2 billion. A high 68% were online scams.

The most horrific scam of all is the so-called Macao Scam that should be renamed the Jail Scam. Here, the scammer exploits your power of belief in authority and your fear of death in a police lockup. The caller poses as someone from a ministry, tax dept, post office, courier service, insurance company, or bank and plants fear in you by revealing that your name has surfaced in a police investigation.

In the most common variation of this scam technique, you find yourself talking to a tough “police inspector” who accuses you of involvement in fraud, drug trafficking or money laundering. A friendly “sergeant” then takes over the call and he implants greater fear in you by revealing that a police warrant has been issued for your arrest and detention.

However, the “sergeant “ offers to get you out of trouble in a legit way. He instructs you to transfer money in batches to a number of government accounts to demonstrate your innocence and avoid being thrown into a police lockup. The “sergeant” calls you at fixed times and he warns you each time to observe strict privacy and confidentiality. No one must know of the calls, as the investigations are top secret.

Early last year, a doctor lost RM747,000 and in May a real estate agent was scammed of RM7.73 million. Towards year-end, a university lecturer lost RM1.3 million, and in December an engineer lost RM2.9 million. In such big Macao Scam or Jail Scam cases, the victims borrow heavily and may even take out bank loans.

Far more numerous are losses below RM100,000. In mid-2021, a secretary with no savings lost RM65,000 borrowed from family members. An 85-year-old retired teacher lost RM50,000 in December 2021, and a school teacher lost RM32,700 in March 2022.

The flawed school system is the reason that Malaysians easily fall victim to scams. Years of primary, secondary, and tertiary schooling emphasise exam-oriented learning entirely dependent on belief. Schools conduct very few discovery-oriented lessons, as the emphasis is on memorising theoretical stuff for exams.

On top of that, most Malaysians have no relationship with the police and no contact persons that they have ever dealt with. They also fear the police because of stories circulating of deaths in lockups. So they obey the “police” voice out of faith and fear. The police must do more than just issue advisories. They must go down to the ground and mix frequently so that ordinary folks can establish a relationship with them.

On preventive enforcement, if someone impersonates the police to commit a crime shouldn’t he get a life term or hang if a victim dies from depression? Shouldn’t telcos and banks be compelled by law to deploy AI tracking? The Macau Scam uses easily recognisable phone-calling and money transfer patterns that can be detected by AI within seconds. AI can then intervene to save the victim, while alerting the police to swoop in. But will telcos and banks invest in AI to protect you?


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

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