Wise up to the chicanery of fraudsters


PEOPLE cheat and get cheated every day. Some ill-gotten gains and unwitting losses are small — like getting shortchanged a few ringgit at a sales counter or owed a couple of hundreds by fair weather friends.

But some losses are huge, running into thousands of ringgit, especially when scams are involved.

Most confidence tricks can be avoided, yet the number of victims is escalating. Repeated warnings to beware of strangers bearing gifts mostly fall on deaf ears. The gullible continue to be suckers for sugar-coated promises and unfettered flattery. Con-men take advantage of this human flaw and thrive on it.

What is a confidence trick? According to criminologists, it is an attempt to defraud a person or group by gaining their confidence. The victim is called the mark while the trickster is variously known as a confidence or con man, confidence trickster, grifter or con artist. Accomplices are called shills.

Research shows con men or women exploit human traits such as greed, dishonesty (and honesty), vanity, compassion, credulity, irresponsibility and naïveté. Victims come from all backgrounds.

Scams are perpetrated everywhere. Con artists spin tall tales to lure potential victims. In one case, “interested parties” were told they could have shares of treasures locked up in the con men’s country by depositing a small sum. The amount could, of course, swell considerably by the end of the scam.

In another case, the con artists professed to have a chemical capable of washing black notes into legitimate US tender. Naturally, this ‘miracle’ liquid came with a big price tag. Yet, there were some idiots who fell for the ploy.

In Malaysia, a lot of money is lost to scammers and senior citizens are a favourite target. Perhaps, the elders tend to be more trusting of others and, generally, too polite to strangers for their own good.

Younger people are not spared either. Earlier in the week, a housewife was conned by a get-rich-quick syndicate that promised her winnings of RM1 million through a set of fail-safe four-digit numbers. She ended up RM244,708 poorer.

Police have also warned Internet users to be wary of cyber cheats who sell online. Buyers are advised to get the seller’s full particulars (identity, address, phone number, email address and other vital information) before any agreeing to any transactions.

Cyber cheats have been known to use dubious modus operandi to convince users to buy goods online and cause them to lose heavily to bogus business syndicates.

That’s not half the end of it. Crime syndicates have even resorted to using cyberspace relationships they have built through emails and social network sites to commit crime.

One case, under investigation, involved a male lecturer who fell victim to a con ring’s elaborate scheme known as Customs Scam.

The lecturer was deceived into forming a strong relationship with a British women who had asked him  to meet her at KLIA during a holiday trip to Malaysia.

On the appointed day, the lecturer went to the airport but his Internet friend was nowhere to be found. Instead, he received call supposedly from a Royal Customs and Excise Department officer, informing him the British woman had been detained at KLIA for not declaring a huge sum of money.

The lecturer was told the matter could be resolved amicably if he transferred a certain sum into a bank account, after which, he could meet his friend at the Sultan Ismail Airport in Senai, Johor Bharu.

When the lecturer finally realised he had been taken for a ride, he not only discovered his Internet friend was a phantom but also that he had lost RM25,500 for all his trouble.

Statistically, since 2007, 19 victims, comprising housewives and businessmen, have fallen victims to a variety of frauds, involving the loss of some RM930,000.

Experts have come up with ways to avoid scams. These include taking the time to know what you are getting into; always thinking and asking questions; not feeling obliged you have to be courteous all the time; treating your finances as very personal and constantly keeping track of them, and being familiar with fraud cases, especially the fact that the perpetrators can be ‘so very nice’.

A con artist will try everything to finagle a deal but you can call his or her bluff by keeping your guard up and lodging a police report.

Nothing makes the fraudster happier than an unthinking target.

The golden rule is not to be led on by the nose when offered a deal that seems too good to be true, but to think things through and ask questions.

A wise person never says “I do not think because I know everything.”

In the sordid world of deceitful schemers, such misplaced confidence can spell financial disaster and a lifetime of regrets.