Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Covid-19 gives scammers a leg-up as shift online continues

Cases abound of scams related to financial assistance and loans during the pandemic season, with fraudsters taking advantage of the shift to e-commerce as well.

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Amalina was surprised when she received a phone call from her bank, as they had never called her before.

“They told me my account had been frozen due to suspected illegal activities,” she said.

Her surprise instantly turned to fear and panic as she was told she could be arrested and charged with money laundering.

Instinctively, she wanted to cooperate with her bank as they tried to help her extricate herself from her perilous position. She gave them all of the information and personal particulars they asked for. But then the call turned nasty.

“The lady who spoke to me first started off speaking like normal but later she passed the phone to a police officer who started threatening me with prison.”

Amalina was being panicked into falling for a classic scam.

“He was very intimidating, and my thought process was blocked. I just did what they told me to,” she said.

“Scammers usually don’t have a specific target. They just go with anyone they deem to be vulnerable enough to fall for their schemes.”

Soon after, when she received three texts from her bank alerting her to three money transfers from her account that day, she realised she had been duped but it was too late.

“Most scammers prey on a person’s sense of panic, credulity, compassion, vanity or greed which is why anyone from any age group, class or background can fall victim to their tactics,” said Kalpana Sambasivamurthy, executive director at Association of Banks in Malaysia (ABM), made up of the 26 commercial banks operating in the country.

“Scammers usually don’t have a specific target. They just go with anyone they deem to be vulnerable enough to fall for their schemes,” she told MalaysiaNow. “Fraudsters target people of all backgrounds, ages and income levels.”

Scams are normally carried out through phone calls, emails or texts, but swindlers are adept at moving with the times, Kalpana said. “Which is why scams using social media such as Facebook and WhatsApp are skyrocketing.”

Crooks are also very smart about exploiting current situations and communal anxieties, which is why the pandemic is providing them with plenty of opportunities to trick people out of their money.

“There have been many cases of scams related to financial assistance and loans provided to assist those affected as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Kalpana said.

“And because most people are buying everything from food to furniture online while they are kept at home, that gives plenty of scope to these creative fraud gangs.”

According to a recent study published by Telenor Group, Malaysia is the Asian country most vulnerable to scams, with up to 46% of respondents saying they’ve fallen victim to one.

Despite those numbers, Kalpana said there are ways Malaysians can protect themselves.

Firstly, she said, be aware that the most common financial scams in Malaysia are e-finance scams, non-existent loan scams, and e-commerce scams. Any of these will usually require the victim to give up the details of their bank accounts.

“Banks will never ask you for your personal banking information such as your PIN or your online banking login username and password,” Kalpana said. “And they will never use third parties or agents when setting up loans or other financial arrangements.”

“As Covid-19 pushes everyone further into doing everything online, we must all be extra vigilant.”

All internet users are guilty of sometimes clicking links without too much thought, but this could turn out to be a very expensive mistake.

“If you receive an email purporting to be from your bank and asking you to update your online login information by clicking a link provided, never click any links which claim to take you to your bank’s website.”

In that situation, Kalpana and other security experts give the same advice: Always access your bank’s website by typing the address directly into the address bar in your internet browser or use the bank’s official mobile app on your phone.

“As Covid-19 pushes everyone further into doing everything online, we must all be extra vigilant,” said Kalpana.

Ultimately, Amalina, not her real name, lost RM45,000 to her scammers. All it had taken was one phone call, but it could just as easily have been a WhatsApp message or Facebook post which panicked her into giving her savings away.

ABM advises anyone in doubt about an enquiry or communication to contact ABMConnect at 1300-88-9980 or Bank Negara Malaysia’s BNMTELELINK at 1300-88-5465 for further assistance.

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