‘Don’t let online romance break your heart’

Moliza (left) explaining scam statistic to Fatimah (centre) after the briefing. Looking on are (from second left) Fatimah’s assistant ministers Rosey Yunus, Datuk Francis Harden and Sarawak Narcotics CID chief Supt Sahar Abdul Latif.

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By Geryl Ogilvy

KUCHING, April 16: Don’t let online romance break your heart, advised the Sarawak Commercial CID deputy chief on love scams that have cheated over 200 women out of millions in the state these past two years.

DSP Moliza Tauk said the online scam, often targeting individuals seeking relationships via social media, have swindled 111 individuals in 2017 and 102 last year. As of March this year, 30 cases have been reported.

The victims are mostly women who appeared to be well-off, or have a steady job and career. The majority of the victims were those aged between 30 and 65 years old.

She added that last year, total financial losses from love schemes amounted to RM5,875,912. While one victim was cheated out of RM1,050, the biggest scam involved RM985,753.

On the race breakdown, Chinese were the biggest number of scammed victims in Sarawak for 2018 at 39. This was followed by Iban (21), Bidayuh (18), Malay (11), Melanau (6), Bugis (2), and one each of Kelabit, Kenyah, Kayan, Kadazan and Arab victims.

“The majority of victims of love scams are women who are working professionals or business owners. Based on our data, many reported that their online romance spoke English with an African accent.

“The scammers targeted their victims through social media such as Facebook. They would pose as handsome men with high-end jobs such as engineers, doctors, businessmen and others.

“They have no specific target, they would fish for all types of women and not necessarily those who are lonely. Our records showed that victims consist of single, divorced and even married women,” she told reporters after a briefing on “Love Scam” and “Macau Scam” cases in Sarawak here today.

The briefing was carried out with Welfare, Community Wellbeing, Women, Family and Childhood Development Minister Datuk Seri Fatimah Abdullah and other relevant agencies at her office at Baitulmakmur Complex.

Moliza reminded those seeking online romance or involved in long-distant relationships to be careful and be wary of romances that seemed too good to be true.

Despite the many public messages, awareness campaigns and endless reports in the media, there will always be that one person who is blinded by love and refuses to heed advice from friends and families, she pointed out.

“For a start, don’t simply approve friend requests from unknown persons on Facebook. When this so-called friend or love interest starts to ask for money for whatever reason, especially if you never met the person, that is definitely a red-flag,” she advised.

On a related note, Moliza also briefed the minister on financial extortion schemes known as the “Macau Scam”.

The number of cases, involving fraudulent phone calls to convince people to make payment on alleged debts, court fines or taxes, has skyrocketed in Sarawak.

She said 73 cases were reported in 2017 and last year, the figure rose to 209. This year, 34 cases have been reported as of March.

The 209 reported cases in 2018 resulted in losses amounting to RM10,357,202. The lowest amount a person was cheated out of was RM880, while the biggest loss was RM831,348.

Moliza said their modus operandi are often tax-related, convincing the victim to pay (then) outstanding GST. They also posed as court, police or bank officers, trying to lure their victims into settling (non-existent) court or police cases, or so-called outstanding bank loans.

She pointed out that these scammers are well-trained and can be very convincing to dupe their victims. The victims, when panicked, would follow the given instructions to clear their names of any trouble.

“Do not engage with these scammers. Just put down the phone and check with the relevant authorities or banks. Any such call requiring a person to transfer money (especially to a personal account) is definitely a scam.” — DayakDaily