Family pressure on marriage, high exposure to social media, loneliness among factors of victims falling prey to scams

31 Aug 2023 06:47pm
Photo for illustration purposes only - 123RF
Photo for illustration purposes only - 123RF

SHAH ALAM - Love scams or catfishing continue to be a pressing issue in Malaysia, despite efforts to curb the problem.

The widespread use of technology and social media have expanded the reach of love scammers, allowing them to cast a wider net and target unsuspecting individuals.

Records from the last five years from the Bukit Aman statistics showed that 82.8 per cent of love scam victims were women who were mostly single and divorced with more than 7,500 cases recorded since 2018.

With the anonymity provided by the Internet, scammers can easily create fake profiles and disguise identities that appear genuine, making it challenging for the victims to discover the truth.

Criminologist and Arunachala Research and Consultancy founder R. Paneir Selvam said feeding in a lot of personal life informations on social media was one of the core issue of love scams.

He said scammers were well-trained in some countries and in fact, they even have a school that taught how to convince the victims.

"Whether you are educated or not, the chances of getting scammed is high because the scammers are well-trained and they are good psychologically.

"If you feed in a lot of information about yourself (single, divorcee, widow) you are putting messages indicating that you are lonely and these are the signals you are giving them (scammers) that you are a potential victim.

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"Scammers will mostly target the professionals, those with good financial background because they don't want to spend time with those who are not financially strong," he said.

Commenting further, Panier said family and society can exert immense pressure on individuals to find a partner and settle down, often leading people to rush and pursue relationships at any cost.

Panier said most of the people who exceeded the age for marriage would be facing pressure from others and they would often be asked when they were going to get married.

This, he said happened to women especially in Malaysia where it was a norm to get married before the age of 30.

"Since the victims are under tremendous pressure to get married or to find a partner, and when scammers approach them, communicate with them with so much of respect and care about them, the victims would automatically think that the scammers are the right partner for them to marry or get engaged to.

"Even though in most cases we blame the carelessness of the victims where they should be taking responsibility over their lost, I feel that the society especially family and friends must play a role.

"They should understand, provide the right love and care, otherwise the victims who were under pressure and lonely will start to look for attention and love from a third party," he said.

Therefore, he urged family members and friends to understand more about the people surrounding them who were lonely and having a love relationship online.

"It is always good to check on your family members and friends. Apart from blaming the victim, we must understand how they ended up in a toxic relationship. We need to understand that from the psychological point of view.

"The moment the victim realises that they were being scammed were when the scammer distanced themselves after getting the money and then, it will be too late.

“It is advisable that victims must have friends and family who are looking out for them and someone to talk to without any judgement and criticism," he told Sinar Daily.

When asked about the percentage of victims who fell prey to love scams, Panier said around 70 to 90 per cent of victims were women adding that the common target for scammers were divorcees, widows and victims who exceeded the age of marriage.

However, he said there were many male victims who fell for love scams too, but most of them did not come forward and disclose what had happened to them since they wanted to maintain their reputation.

"Love scam is not gender-based, there are many men who fell victim but most of them are not coming forward and telling their story unlike women who became victims.

“Female victims are very open as they easily get attention and publicity, but for men, they don't because they will be seen as stupid and naive and also in a way they want to maintain their reputation.

"Men do not share their problems to their family or friends unless it is an extreme issue which very rarely happens. When you see the police reports, around 70 to 90 per cent of the reports were lodged by women who came forward and make their complaints and there will be very less complaints from men,” he said.

Meanwhile, Universiti Sains Malaysia cybersecurity and AI researcher Associate Professor Dr Selvakumar Manickam said love scams remained a major issue despite technological advancements and educated individuals due to various factors.

"Scammers are experts at manipulating their victims emotionally. They may use flattery, attention and promises of love to build trust and create a false sense of intimacy.

"People often tend to confirm their existing beliefs, even when presented with contradictory evidence and this can make it difficult to identify scammers, even when there are red flags present.

"Those who have invested much time and energy into an online relationship may be more reluctant to believe they are being catfished. This can make them more vulnerable to exploitation," he said when contacted.

When asked about the type of awareness that can be created to solve such issues, Selvakumar said educating people on the tactics and red flags of love scams were the best way.

"An effective love scam awareness programme should encompass various aspects, including educating participants about the tactics and red flags of love scams, providing real-life stories as relatable examples, emphasising online safety and privacy measures, teaching identity verification techniques and collaborating with law enforcement.

"The awareness programme’s outreach should utilise various channels for promotion, ensuring that participants are equipped with the necessary knowledge and tools to recognise, prevent and report love scams effectively.

"The awareness programme needs to be integrated into employee training and orientation initiatives and it should be reiterated on an annual basis with refreshed contents to reflect the latest information," he said.

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