By Jessica Wee

According to Malaysia’s AKPK (Credit Counselling and Debt Management Agency) website, Malaysians lose up to RM2 billion annually due to telecommunications scams and e-commerce fraud. The widespread incidents of such thefts and how easily victims are duped by these criminals have triggered alarm bells on the susceptibility of the public to such scams.

Many have lost their life savings to promises of fast cash and instant wealth despite repeated warnings by the authorities.

 Here are some basic steps to avoid getting scammed

  1. Be skeptical when someone contacts you -authorities & friends alike. Scammers can make calls and emails to make it look like they are coming from different sources, including government agencies, charities, banks, friends and large companies. Don’t share personal information, usernames or passwords that others can use to steal your identity. 
  2. Do your research. Before you make a purchase or donation, take a few minutes to review the company. 
  3. Be careful with your phone. If you suspect a spam call, the safest option is to hang up or ignore the call entirely. PayPal advises that you don’t refund or forward overpayments. Be careful whenever a company or person asks you to refund or forward part of a payment. Often, the original payment will be fraudulent and taken back later.
  4. Look for suspicious payment requirements. Scammers often ask for payments via wire transfer, money order, cryptocurrency or gift cards. These payments can be harder to track and cancel than other forms of payment, which can leave you stuck without recourse.
  5. Don’t respond to SMS that send you a PIN/verification number from your friend or stranger. Your friend’s account might have been compromised without them knowing it..
  6. Website and emails: lookout for websites and emails which have spelling mistakes. Genuine corporations have copy writers and very rarely succumb to mistakes.

Here are examples of some recent scams

  1. Investment scams that are not from a reputable financial institution which require you to front a lump sum in return of monthly irresistible coupon payment (>8%) with the guarantee of your capital repayment at the end of 1-2 years tenor.
  2. Robocalls: increasingly natural-sounding recorded voices offering everything from fake auto debt reminders and fake issuing threats. Some systems can even respond to your questions.
  3. Texts: You may receive a text message from an unknown number or email address. Often, these smishing attempts include a link to a website or app.
  4. Impersonators: Scammers impersonate from a government body (eg: LHDN/ IRB/ APKP), police, survey takers, friends (from social media), delivery people (eg: DHL) and well-known companies to threaten you or gain your trust. They use scare tactics related to your ID number, criminal record or account before asking for your personal, account or credit card information. They may also tell you an investment is for your own good.
  5. Apps: Scammers may try to get you to install a malicious app to steal your information. Or, rip off existing apps and then make money from in-app purchases.
  6. QR codes: QR codes have gained popularity as a touchless option to do things like read a restaurant menu or make a payment during the pandemic. However, scammers place their QR codes in inconspicuous spots, and scanning the code could prompt you to make a small purchase or enter your credentials on a look-alike website.
  7. Cryptocurrency Scams: Scammers capitalize on the people’s FOMO. The scams can take different forms but often involve fake prizes, contests, giveaways or early investment opportunities.
  8. Romance Scams: Scammers often steal someone’s identity or create fake profiles on dating and social media apps to meet victims. Scammers usually use attractive photos and avoid meeting in person—many use the coronavirus as an excuse. Some scammers may also make future plans to meet in 3-6 months. In between, there will be a request to assist checking bank accounts which will escalate to fund transfer with a promise to repay. There could also be medical emergencies in the family which will be hard for a romantic partner to turn down once emotions are invested.
  9. Online Purchase Scams: happens where you purchase a product or service that’s never delivered. Paying with a credit card can help you limit potential losses, as you can initiate a chargeback if you don’t receive a product or service.
  10. Debt management services: an agent promises to restructure your debts for a service fee. Please remember that AKPK is free financial counselling and debt management services.

If a business or investment opportunity sounds too good to be true, it most likely is. Make a point to check with several sources, the time will be well spent to save you from a financial ruin/ disappointment.

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