Love scam syndicates target lonely people

AHMAD ISMADI ISMAIL
AHMAD ISMADI ISMAIL
25 Feb 2023 02:18pm
Love scammers often target lonely individuals on social media, says Selangor police deputy chief Datuk S. Sasikala Devi.
Love scammers often target lonely individuals on social media, says Selangor police deputy chief Datuk S. Sasikala Devi.
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SHAH ALAM - Love scammers often target lonely individuals on social media.

The syndicate will use a fake profile and would act as if they cared about the victims and often offered advices as they started to get to know each other.

When the victim had fallen in love with the perpetrator, the latter will then ask for financial help citing various reasons including business matters.

The victims who sympathised would then transfer their money before they realised they were actually victims of the scam.

Selangor police deputy chief Datuk S. Sasikala Devi said the suspect will use a photo of an attractive individual as a profile picture of a fake social media account and talked with the victim over the phone for a certain period of time.

She said lonely individuals who lived alone or had lost their spouse were often the target of these syndicates.

"These group of individuals (victims) are those who spend a lot of time on social media to fill their void and look for new contacts to get rid of their loneliness.

“The syndicate will see this as an opportunity and get the victims to share their personal problems with them (perpetrators) on social media.

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“Besides that, the scammers also target individuals who intend to move abroad and find a match.

"As they get to know each other, the victim thought that the suspect really cared about them, so the victim would eventually fall in love,” she told Sinar Harian in an exclusive interview.

Sasikala said after the victim had fallen in love, the suspect would start asking for financial help for various reasons including to expand their business with promises to share the profits.

The syndicate, she said would also use tactics such as sending gifts to their victims which included jewellery and cash, among others, as a "sign of friendship”.

"The victims would be contacted by someone pretending to be a customs officer or from a courier company saying that the goods have arrived but it was being held due to insurance, undeclared cash or for not paying tax.

"The victim would then be asked to make a clearance payment to the syndicate, through a specific account number," she said.

Sasikala added that the victim's love for their “lover” would make them believe in the lies and just complied to the directions without realising they were actually being scammed.

"The victim would only realise that they were cheated when the package did not arrive," she said.

She said last year, RM12 million in losses due to love scams were recorded.

She revealed that a total of 3,725 commercial crime cases were reported in Selangor, involving losses of over RM418 million, that year.

She said out of the number, there were a total of 2,827 cases of online scam involving over RM142 million in losses.

A total of 98 investigation papers had been opened and 158 arrests were made for the love scam and parcel scam cases involving RM12 million losses.

"As for the statistics in 2021, a total of 187 investigation papers were opened and 98 individuals were arrested involving a loss of RM13 million," she said.

Sasikala said the police believed that the syndicates used mule accounts for each online transactions.

She said the mule accounts were believed to be owned by individuals who had sold or rented their account for as low as RM100 or RM200 per month due to financial hardship.

"The syndicate's mastermind will never use their own account, to avoid from getting caught and the mule account holders do not have ATM cards because the syndicate has it," she said.

She said the syndicate's modus operandi was to obtain the mule accounts through advertisement on social media.

The people who provided the mule accounts, she said were considered as an accomplice of the online scam syndicates.

She said members of online scam syndicates did not know each other but they each have their own roles.

"The syndicate members will be given instructions via WhatsApp, where there are some who are tasked to obtain ATM cards from the mule account holders or courier companies.

“Investigations found that the syndicates also used foreigners’ names to register for telecommunication line numbers.

"The address used by these syndicates to register the line numbers do not exist,” she said.

For the record, a total of 3,818 mule accounts were identified last year.

"The police also found a total of 1,016 mule account holders were involved in online scam syndicates from January to February," she said.

Targeting vulnerable victims

Sasikala Devi said people who easily fall victim to online scam syndicates were those who were likely oblivious and believed that they will never be scam victims.

"The police has organised countless seminars, briefings, forums and campaigns on social media about scam syndicates, but the public's awareness about the issue is still low.

"The public also easily panic when they receive calls from these syndicate members posing as enforcement officers.

"The syndicate will use tactics that will scare the victims by accusing them of being guilty for breaking the law, in effort to trap the victims," she said.

She said the police were conducting investigation in accordance to Section 420 of the Penal Code where the mule account holders will be charged in court under the Minor Offences Act 1955.

Stricter law needs to be in place

Sasikala Devi suggested that the government amend the law to give harsher punishments for cyber crimes and that it should review existing laws against online fraud syndicates.

The public was also advised to confirm with the police when they received suspicious calls.

"To avoid from getting scammed, the public can check the phone number and bank account number they received through https://semakmule.rmp.gov.my website.

She added that people who were currently victims of online scams should immediately contact the National Scam Response Centre (NSRC) via the 997 line so that further action could be taken.

"The line is available every day from 8am to 8pm and immediate action will be taken by freezing the accounts and blocking any withdrawals.

"Scam victims need to lodge a police report and contact the bank for further investigation," she said.

The NSRC is a local response centre that combines resources and expertise from the National Anti-Financial Crime Centre (NFCC), the Royal Malaysia Police (PDRM), Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC).