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Monday, March 27, 2017

Fraud, Scam and Trickery

To remember that I once was a young innocent impressionable young man. I guess the line of work I choose to take had matured me when handling people. After all, you can't be easily cheated to again when you learnt the lesson of trusting someone for 15 years, at least.

In my line of work, at times I have to handle much of these frauds, scams and trickery. No, I won't be divulging what is my day work though I suspect some of you do know.

Early Experience 
My first brush with these unsavoury characters were surprisingly young, at a tender age of 10. I was doing my scout troop job week when this man from a mechanic shop beckoned me to his workshop.

My eyes were bulging with excitement when I saw him writing the figure RM1,000, only to have him handing me no money. He chased me and my friend away, two of us bewildered how are we going to account for the difference.

Thankfully, the scoutmaster, Cikgu January understood and had my booklet replaced. While it did not deter my zeal to perform job week, it did opened my eyes to a new dark world that I have to face at times.

Information Era Scam
Yet the lesson did not register. The advent of information technology saw that a new kind of fraud and scam emerging in our country. I too nearly became a victim of one.

I received a random email from a woman who claimed that her husband had died and left her a fortune and she's dying of cancer. But she would need me to pay certain amount of money to her attorney on the pretext of preparing her will.

Back then, I had heard of such email scams. But being young and impressionable, I didn't that I would fall for it. Plus, these scams were about old lady whose husband had passed away and need a male relative to be the executor.

I was lucky I was as poor as a church mouse. I didn't have the money for the scammer. The scammer didn't call me back and a few weeks later, a friend shared a similar scam email to the one I had responded to.

This time, the lessons learnt took root. I began to verify whatever information I received and will find ways to corroborate the information with any other available reliable sources.

Few incidents in between, I am now much more careful. But I would not claim that I can detect a scam a mile away.

But being ready and being careful is all part of the game.

So recently, when I received a call from a purported company claiming to give free holiday package to family provided they participate in a review, I was piqued.

I had accepted the offer to meet up, not really much on accepting the package but more to being an opportunity to find out which bugger shared my information to these fraudster (yeah, retrospectively a fat chance).

I had forgotten about it and 2 weeks back, they called me again.

This time, they shared details of their company which raised a huge red flag.
See here. They claimed to be involved in a hotel, but a simple Google search tells me the purported company is not involved in hotel industry.

The company is likely to be genuine and happen to share the same name with the suspected scammer.

Second check is to the hotel's website. And no. It is a different company running the hotel.

Third clue is most telling. Poorly written SMS with company name changing from Sunner to Sinner (big clue - they're all sinners). If you are a part of an international reputable hotel chain, you will be very sure to make sure you get your spelling correct. It is the company's reputation on the line.

So I decided to tell my wife that I'll be going solo on this excursion. But she disagreed. Plus it was a week after Pastor Koh's kidnapping.

They called me one more time and this time, I told them my wife is not around. They rudely put down the phone without saying much. Oh well, that's it. No point for me to go there. 

Much later, two of my Facebook contacts shared similar stories involving different hotel groups. I attended but did not get what was promised. While another rejected the offer. Thanks guys for sharing.

Okay, long story cut short. Sharing my story is to tell you that even I am vulnerable. But even as vulnerable as you are, if you learn to take note of the red flags and lessons learnt, you'll avoid of becoming a victim.

Lesson #1 - First thing first - it can happen to you
One of the things I noted with many scam victims are they can't believe it had happened to them. They can't believe that they had been scammed.

Heck! One of the funniest cases I had came across was a woman who had paid a sum of money to an online scammer for the purchase of forged notes. The woman was so intent in defrauding others that she was cheated a substantial amount of money.

Note that realisation of this possibility had helped to prevent myself from falling to a few other too good to be true scams.

Lesson #2 - If It Is Too Good Too Be True, It Is Likely Ain't True
Most scammers play on your greed. That you want to be part of a great riches undiscovered by the market.
If you study economics, you'll find that it is almost impossible to beat the market. A market's systemic risk will ensure that regardless what you do, it is almost impossible to beat the market.

Some scammers play on your righteousness. I fell to that category in the story I shared. There are others too but it would be politically incorrect for me to point it out. I'll let you discover them yourselves as I don't want my message to be lost to the potentially distressing political hounds, be it from those who support my statement or against the statement. Politics can have a day off. The message is more important.

Lesson #3 - Corroborate the Information with Publicly Available Information
Easier said than done. Average Malaysians do not read newspapers. Many view newspapers as propaganda material by the Government. Let's not get into why it is seen as Government propaganda.

This misleading view had resulted many not keeping in touch with current events.

The advent of social media also resulted in proliferation of fake news, primarily from blogs like my own.

Thus one must know how to identify these fake news.

You might be forgiven for falling for a scam say, some 20 years ago. You might need to go to a library to read about something before making your decisions or read newspaper on daily basis. But even with newspaper, there's always a possibility what you were facing then is not a scam.

But in today's world where information technology is pervasive, it is very hard not to find out about something new.

With just a click of a button, you should be able to search for the information you require to make your decision.

First thing first, cut all the conspiracy theorist crap you've heard. Many conspiracy theorists that I have had come across live in a weird world which I can't fathom. In their mind, what they believe is true and what they don't believe is not true. Everything must fit into what they believe in. Never for once they take the possibility that what they believe is untrue, despite the fallibility of their belief.

In fact, it always reminds me of a young man that I had met some 2 years back. He began asking questions in a forum and then posited that Malaysia was involved in genocide in Somalia and Sudan. My first reaction was to disbelief, but I told myself to see what he has to prove his remarks. Next, he claimed that US and China is engaged in a nuclear war in South China Sea. Hands down. Even the organisers who were hoping for some information which can be used against the government started to giggle.

Lesson #4 - Be Wary if Someone is Pushy
A scammer tries to spend as little time as possible with you. The more time you spend with a scammer, the more details of him or her that you will remember.

They would also want things to be done fast and try to push you to get things done. The more you rush, the likelier you would not have time to rethink what are you doing.

They could also play with your emotion. Some scammers, especially kidnap and ransom scam calls you and tell you they have your son/daughter. Then they will play a recording of someone crying. You panicked and you are likely to forget to pick up the phone and call your son or daughter.

Some will also invade your personal space. One that I personally encountered was a man who claimed that he is a psychic and he saw that I'm a blessed man. Indeed I am as I can see through his scam. Greeted me and tried to shake my hand while pulling me close to him, I rejected his approach. Heck! The bugger even had a card made for himself claiming as a member of New York Psychic Association or something.

Lesson #5 - Call Call Call
If you're unsure, call directly to the organisation that the person claims he or she is representing. Do not call the number given by the person, email or sms, but call the number found online. These days, the numbers are listed online.

A further tip, call back twice. Give a time between the first call and the second call and you might want to use a different phone to call. This is a precaution as I know of at least 1 active syndicate that is able to hijack phone line.

Case Study - Typical Fraud/Scam Modus Operandi
This is something I have gathered the last few years. I hope by sharing these MO, you will be more aware of potential fraud/scam that you might be succeptible to.

Lottery Win Scam
You'll get an sms or email informing that you or your phone have won a lucky draw.

Known organisations used in this scam are Maxis, Shell, British Lottery. Please take note scammers can use any channels they want or company names they want.

Money-Laundering Scam
You'll receive a call from someone claiming to be from a police force/Bank Negara/MACC/High Court claiming you're involved in money-laundering and your accounts are going to be frozen. They will offer you to transfer fund into a "safe" account for a few days.

Credit Card Scam
You'll receive an sms either from a 5-digit number or normal handprint number as if is from a bank, confirming that you have made a certain purchase. Usually, it is a purchase from Poh Kong in klia2. Panicked, you're likely to call to the number and they will "guide" you to a BNM personnel who will ask you to deposit your fund into a "safe" account.

Get this, I don't recall seeing any Poh Kong Jewelry at klia2.

This scam is also known as the Macau scam.

Parcel Scam
You get befriended by someone via email/Facebook/LinkedIn. Usually is opposite sex and they tell you they had fallen in love with your profile.

Soon they tell you they had sent a valuable parcel to you, which would always be stopped by Customs. And to have the parcel released, they will ask you to pay money to a Custom official.

This scam is also known as the love scam.

Kidnap Scare
As shared as above.

Job Scam
Now there's 2 types of job scam.

First type is prevalent in Sabah and Sarawak. You pay money to an agent to find work in Singapore that later is found to be nonexistent. Unfortunately, I'm not familiar with this type of scam.

Second type is prevalent nationwide. You're offered a part-time job to do something menial but being given a large pay. You might be asked to open accounts at several banks. Your "employer" is also likely to ask your help to open a few accounts in your name on behalf of other "colleagues" that are not able to open accounts at banks. For each account opened, you'll be paid some commission.

The accounts opened by you will be used by the syndicate to launder money via Internet banking and ATM. They could also be used to commit online scams. And when the police investigates, you are likely be the only suspect.

Many victims of this fraud are students, unemployed housewives and job seekers. 

Unfortunately, I can't list all the scams I know. Some must remain confidential. 

Plus, knowing details of one type of scam, you might have a target fixation that you do not realise the existence of other types of scams.

What I can do for you now is to share these knowledge. These are what I know. These can help you. And please, do use and share them. I'll have less headache at work.

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