From Baskaran Sithamparam
The Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations (Fomca) and the National Consumer Complaints Centre would like to alert Malaysian consumers on the sudden spike of scam-related complaints and to be cautious and remain alert of such scams.
Scammers are becoming more sophisticated with their tactics with the hopes that you let your guard down. We urge consumers not to provide their personal, banking, or any details to strangers who have approached them through phone calls.
Fomca has been receiving approximately 450 complaints and enquiries related to scams since January. Based on our observation, these scammers take advantage of vulnerable consumers and, surprisingly, some of the victims are highly educated. It is becoming more difficult to differentiate between a scam and a legitimate business.
Fomca would also like to urge all relevant authorities to be more active and play their roles in curbing this unscrupulous activity. The communications and multimedia ministry and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission should help educate consumers by using their channels to reach out to the public at large.
The domestic trade and consumer affairs ministry also needs to publish and update frequently all scam-related cases on their website. Enforcement agencies must also charge these culprits and increase fines and jail terms for such offences.
Scammers are constantly trying to steal consumers’ personal data using fake emails, websites, phone calls and text messages. They use a variety of ways to try to trick people into providing them with personal information, bank account numbers and other valuable information, such as debit/credit card numbers.
In many cases, their goal is to steal money from you. Below are some terms used for different online scams and how they work, so consumers can protect themselves and avoid falling into their trap.
How do scammers contact their victims?
“Phishing” is the term used to describe a scam in which the scammer asks you to provide them with your personal financial information through email, telephone or text message by pretending to be from a bank, retail store, service provider or government agency.
These scammers even try to threaten or frighten their victims by stating “you’re a victim of fraud” or some other criminal offence. They make it seem as if you need to act quickly so as to avoid being charged in court or slapped with big fines. Never succumb to it.
“Smishing” is similar to “phishing”, but uses text messages instead. On the other hand, “vishing” occurs when scammers use phone services, such as a phone call, a “voice-activated machine”, or voicemail to try to trick you into providing personal information by sounding like a legitimate business or government official.
What are the different types of scams?
“Government impostor scams” occur when a scammer pretends to be an employee of a government agency. No government agency will ever demand you to make the payment immediately or through online transfers.
They also won’t ask you to provide your personal details on the spot, such as bank account details, credit/debit card numbers, social security numbers, or passwords.
“Fake person scams” happen when a scammer hacks into someone’s email account and sends out fake emails to friends and relatives of that account holder, perhaps claiming that the real account owner is stranded abroad and might need your help to return home. If you receive such an email, make sure you contact the sender through other means before sending any money.
“Love scammers” normally take advantage of people looking for romantic partners, often via dating websites, apps or social media by pretending to be prospective companions.
They play on emotional triggers to get the victims to provide money, gifts or personal details. A love scam is not easy to detect as the perpetrators do not rush into it and instead take their time to woo their victim by promising many things.
With many people nowadays using social media and online dating sites to find their prospective partners, it is difficult to distinguish a genuine person from a scammer.
“Secret/mystery shopper employment scams” involve fake advertisements for job opportunities that claim to be “hiring” people to work from home. As the potential new “employee”, you might receive an official cheque as a starting bonus, but you are then asked to cover the cost of “account activation”.
If a job promises a high salary for little work, be wary. That is a common sign of a job scam. Some other key signs of a fraudulent job advertisement include a request for money remittance prior to any job interview or confirmation of a job offer.
How can I avoid scams?
Be suspicious if someone contacts you unexpectedly online and asks for your personal information. It does not matter how legitimate the email or website may look. Only open emails, respond to text messages, voice mails, or callers that are from people or organisations you know, and even then, be cautious if they look questionable.
If you want to check something out, contact the supposed source by using an email address or telephone number that you know is valid, such as from their website or a bank statement.
Be especially wary of emails or websites that have typos or other obvious mistakes.
Before making online payments to sellers, please check the bank account number or phone number through the “Semak Mule” application created by the police to identify if the account holder is a scammer.
Consumers can log on to the website at https://ccid.rmp.gov.my/semakmule/.
To avoid falling prey to scammers in the future, it is better for us as consumers to equip ourselves with the necessary knowledge.
Baskaran Sithamparam is a senior manager at the Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.