When I was 13, I had a classmate who skipped school for the longest time. We had no idea where he went. We had no clue if he was alright.
Eventually, we found out that his father was a victim of a business scam. His business partner ran away with all their money, leaving him in debt with a loan shark. They had no choice but to disappear for good.
I’ve not seen him since, but it was one of the more alarming scam stories which happened to someone I know.
We read these cases in the newspaper all the time. Sometimes, it’s about a man who gave away his retirement savings to his online lover. Other times, a parent would publicly disown their child who owed money to debt collectors. It’s everywhere.
Are Malaysians that gullible?
I’ll let you decide for yourself.
1. Love scams
You’re thirty and married, but you wish you had someone to talk to.
Then, you meet a British guy on Facebook. He’s nice and charming. You figure you’ve got nothing to lose.
As days turned to months, you feel connected to him. He’s a great guy, you tell your pet goldfish.
Then, just like the plot twist in a Liam Neeson movie, something bad happened.
Misfortune struck your British bae while he was on a business trip in Sarawak. Gasp, he was robbed! They stole his money and belongings. He lost everything.
You were worried sick. You told him to come over to your place but he can’t. He needs money to get there.
So you deposited money into some Immigration Department and/or other agencies he mentioned.
Come over now, you said.
He’s still stuck. Justice must be served, and he needs more money to hire a lawyer. Since you’ve helped him once, you’ve decided to lend a hand again.
The moment you received a successful transaction alert, he ghosted you.
This year, Bukit Aman’s cybercrime and multimedia investigation unit reported a loss up to RM83.6 million to love scams, which is a big leap from last year’s RM61.9 million.
If you think scams give love a bad name, this one happened close to (my) home.
2. Lottery scams
It happened in the 90s when door-to-door salesmen still existed.
One day, a salesman approached my mother with a scratch and win contest.
What’s the catch?
“Nothing, auntie. It’s free,” he said. “Just try and see. If you win the jackpot, the money is yours.”
Despite the scepticism, my mother did win something. She won a luxury holiday for two to Langkawi. “Wow auntie, I can’t believe this! You actually won!” he enthused. “Auntie, you’re so lucky!”
Then, he called ‘his manager’ informing the good news. Of course, there wasn’t anyone on the other line. There was no caller ID on his screen. He faked it.
“Okay auntie, my boss said you need to collect your prize from our office. We need to go now!” he pressured.
My Mum, who hardly goes anywhere without my Dad, dodged it with the best excuse anyone can imagine.
“Sorry sorry, I have to cook. Got so many things to do.”
When she promised to come to his office another day, we blocked his number as soon as he left.
Eventually, my Mum found out that it was a scam. When her friend went to the office, they were hard-selling an expensive travel package before she can claim her prize.
So really, there’s no such thing as free lunch these days.
Not long after, I got scammed myself.
3. Online shopping
Before Zalora and Lazada were a thing, the older kids, like me, would buy stuff from blog shops.
Many years ago, we would wait excitedly for a new blog post. Once it’s up, we would rush to reserve the things we want and manually deposit our money the next day. Yes, online banking wasn’t even a thing too.
Just like every teen with a minimal monthly allowance, I was very picky about what I wanted to buy. That was until a white dress from a random blog shop caught my eye. At that time, there was no way of finding out if the seller was legit, so my purchase was based on trust.
So I paid and waited.
Two weeks passed and I sensed something fishy. I emailed the seller, and she made some lame-ass excuse about some pre-order issues.
Five weeks later, I received my dress only to discover more problems with it. It looked like it had been worn. It had loose threads around the hemline. It also had hard-to-remove stains. Almost like rust stains that seemed Clorox-impossible.
When I messaged her again, she disappeared.
That happened during the early days of online shopping. Surprisingly, Malaysians are still dealing with dubious online sellers a decade later. So much so, the National Consumer Complaints Centre said that e-commerce ranked high on their consumer complaints in 2017.
The statistics not only mentioned shady websites that sell clothes and accessories but also other things like travel arrangements, prepaid cards and the likes.
If there aren’t enough problems in the world, here’s another scam you need to worry about.
4. Fake charities
Malaysians are a generous bunch. Show a picture of a malnourished child in a war-torn country or tsunami victims with no place to live, and we would help.
As much as there are kind and generous people in the world, there are bad ones.
Remember the time when our Finance Ministry set up Tabung Harapan? You wouldn’t believe the number of posters with fake account numbers being circulated on Facebook.
How about that time when scammers lure donations for flight MH17 victims? You would see fake social media profiles and blogs claiming to raise donations for the affected families.
Let’s not talk about the donation boxes you find in the mamak and restaurants. Sure, most donation boxes come from real charity organisations but there are fake ones too. Some would even walk around claiming to represent a popular organisation but in fact, they’re scammers in disguise.
These dubious charities can even earn as much as RM200 per day. Round it up and you can pay your web developer’s monthly salary with it.
Then, there’s the worst scam of all.
5. Investment scams
Imagine you have lots of gold in your safe.
By some shady power of telepathy, a company called and promised great return for it. All you need to do is sell it to them. Their plan is to accumulate enough gold to sell it to China. Once they do, you will receive more money than in a Sisqo music video.
As soon as you start seeing dollar signs, you said yes.
At first, you’re on a roll. You received seven cheques! That’s amazing, you thought.
It doesn’t end there.
Your small monthly dividend also gave you a total of RM73,000 in the next seven months. This is it! You’re Warren fucking Buffett. You’re going to be rich!
Just as you’re enjoying your big break, something happened.
Your latest dividend cheque got bounced. Shit, you said. That was RM37,000!
You rushed to their office to demand some explanation, but it was too late. The office had been empty for more than a week. Those bastards had run away with your money.
This was a true story, by the way. Happened right here, that person was a victim of a gold investment scam that pocketed RM15 million from 100 different investors. That’s a lot!
Investment scams come in different names. Whether they’re called skim cepat kaya or Ponzi scheme, it means the same thing. These companies would lure you with the promise of insane returns but only to run away with your savings or valuable possessions. As of now, about half a million Malaysians have been cheated by investment scams alone.
It’s alarming to see these scams happening right under our noses or some shady office lot in Wisma Central.
These stories beg the question, “Are Malaysians that gullible?”
Honestly, anyone can make bad decisions when they’re promised love or money.
How to scam-proof yourself? Use research as your point of defence. Before saying yes to anything, learn as much about that person or organisation as you can. Look them up online and read articles, stories, or news relating to them.
Another way is to let people know. When you have another person looking into the situation, they can easily detect or sense something amiss. More so when it involves money transfers. It’s the least you can do to protect yourself from making bad decisions.
Like it or not, these scammers are still out there. If you must leave with a golden rule, here’s one.
If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
For more articles by Cheng Sim, read Malaysians, What Were the Most Romantic Things Anyone’s Ever Done for You? and What It’s like to Work in a Fashion Start-Up for One Year and How I Survived It.