A variety of scams hatched by foreign conmen who promise millions in cash, glittering gems and marriage, have cost gullible Malaysians a staggering RM90 million over the past three years.
Repeated warnings by the police, banks and reports highlighted through the media since such scams surfaced over a decade ago appear to have fallen on deaf ears as the number of victims and amount of losses keep rising over the years.
According to statistics compiled by the Federal Commercial Crimes Investigations Department (CCID):
2,481 victims were reportedly cheated through such unsolicited emails, social networking and dating websites since 2010;
60% of the Malaysians scammed were from Kuala Lumpur and Selangor;
hundreds of similar cases may have gone unreported each year, probably because the victims were too embarrassed;
the majority of victims were locals from all walks of life, including professionals such as lawyers, lecturers and businessmen;
a small number of victims were foreigners living here as well as overseas;
some victims did not learn from being cheated by such syndicates and ended up being fleeced more than once. One female real estate agent lost about RM150,000 on three separate occasions between 2007 and 2010;
the culprits were mainly foreign students from Nigeria and other African countries who carry out their criminal activities here, after gaining entry into Malaysia through the use of student visas; and
money lost by the victims is almost always irrecoverable by the authorities as it is wired out as soon as it is received by the crooks to their accomplices in their own country.
"There is a serious lack of awareness and we need to find a way to put a stop to this," said Federal CCID director Commissioner Datuk Syed Ismail Syed Azizan yesterday.
"Falling for promises of non-existent cash and gems worth tens of millions and offers of marriage by so-called handsome and wealthy caucasians made by these conmen should have been a thing of the past.
"Malaysians should be aware of these tricks as it has been around for years and is not something new.
Syed Ismail said the foreign conmen operating here from the convenience of their rented houses were not only targeting Malaysians but foreigners in their respective countries, especially through "love and romance" scams.
He cited the latest case of a Hong Kong woman who lost RM193,000 to an African syndicate operating in Malacca.
The woman had befriended a man who claimed to be a wealthy Englishman in an online dating website, and promised to meet the woman in Hong Kong to marry her.
He managed to convince her to transfer the cash into several bank accounts belonging to Malaysians in six transactions last month.
"The 37-year-old woman reported the matter to us by email after realising she had been cheated. Last week, she came to Malaysia to assist in the probe and on Tuesday we busted the syndicate after raiding an apartment unit in Bukit Beruang in Malacca," he said.
Police arrested seven African men and two Filipino women aged between 25 and 37 and recovered 23 cellphones and nine laptop computers the gang used to communicate with their victims.
Syed Ismail said the suspects had overstayed in the country as their visas had expired.
"We want to remind Malaysians again to be mindful of the consequences and not be too trusting when sharing their personal details in cyberspace," he said
"We also warn locals who are in cahoots with the syndicates – by allowing them to use their bank accounts – that we will not hesitate to take severe action against them for abetment."