The modus operandi is simple: befriend a gullible person online, gain his or her trust, then move in for the sting. That's when the victim suffers big-time. In one case, the victim lost RM1.3 million.
KUALA LUMPUR: She met him online and soon became comfortable with him. After several weeks of emails and getting to know each other, the man, who said he owned a spare-parts shop in Britain, informed her that he had received an order for goods from Malaysia.
Then came another email asking for a favour. His goods were stuck with the Customs Department. Would she mind helping him by banking in her money to some people in Malaysia to facilitate the clearing of the goods?
He promised to return her money as soon as the goods were cleared and he had received his payment.
She had never met him, yet, according to his instructions, she banked in money into five personal accounts in Malaysia over a brief period. That was the last she heard of him, and the RM1.3 million she had transferred to the five accounts.
The Commercial Crime Investigation Department's Cyber and Multimedia Investigation Division assistant director ACP Mohd Kamarudin Md Din said: "The woman believed him as she thought they had grown close even though they had never met before."
She is one of the victims of the latest cyber scam to hit the country. Police call it the "advance-fee fraud".
In the last eight months, Kamarudin said, more than 40 people had been taken for a ride, losing RM2.7 million in total.
But this number, he pointed out, was based only on those who reported the scam.
It is believed that there are many more Malaysians who have fallen prey but have not lodged police reports.
The modus operandi is simple. The scam operators go online and make friends with someone they think might be susceptible to their persuasion. After gaining the confidence of the person, the perpetrator asks for help. That's when the victims lose their money.
Another way these perpetrators scam gullible people is by notifying them via email that they have won a lottery. The victim would then be asked to pay "processing fees" to receive the winnings.
That is what happened to a professional who received an email saying she had won an award from Microsoft amounting to STG950,000 (RM6 million).
She was told that a diplomat would be coming to Malaysia to hand over the money.
Later, the woman received a call from someone claiming to be a "diplomat" who said he needed her to bank in some money to facilitate the transfer of the funds to Malaysia.
The woman banked RM8,000, over two occasions, into the account the "diplomat" provided. She then received another call from the "diplomat" asking her to pay RM200,000 to an African man, who would contact her, because the lottery amount was being held by the authorities and her money was needed to get them to release it. She did as asked.
The lottery money never came and the woman lost RM208,000.
Kamarudin is worried because more Malaysians are falling prey to this scam. "I feel sorry for those who have fallen victim. This is their hard-earned money. In some cases, the victims had even used borrowed money."
He said some of the money involved in this scam could have been banked into accounts of individuals who had no idea the money was from illegal means.
"This is where the account holder (A) befriends the crook (B) through the Internet and who says he is in the process of opening a business in Malaysia.
"B then tells A that he needs an account for that purpose. He asks his new friend A to open an account for that purpose.
"So A opens the account and provides the account details to B. When the money is banked into A's account, B will email A saying he had received payment for his business. He would then ask A to withdraw the money and send it to him."
Kamarudin warned Malaysians to be careful what they did with their accounts. "You should be careful because the police will hold you responsible for the crime perpetrated through your account."
He said the victims were usually women who were sweet-talked over the Net.
The scammers would always ask their victims to bank the money into individual accounts, although they would claim that it was to clear "goods" from a government department or courier company.
"If the money is meant to clear the goods, the payment should be made into a company or the authority's account."
Sniff out the deceit
* When you receive an email or phone call that a package addressed to you is with a company or a government department, check with the company or government department before you pay a "fee" for it.
* Never pay any "fees" into an individual's account or to someone assigned to collect payment from you. The payment should be made into the account of the company or relevant authority.
* Never ever give details of your bank account to a third party or allow a third party to use it. You are responsible for your account and the police will hold you responsible for the crime perpetrated through that account.
By : Sonia Ramachandran