UPDATE 06/07/2017: In the last 12 hours since we launched the article, several people have confirmed via our comments that they too had almost fallen for the same scam.
UPDATE 16/11/2017: It has also come to light that many of these scams might be possible due to a nationwide data breach of IC numbers and addresses from telcos. Read more here.
If you’ve ever used an ATM machine before, you might have seen a message flashing on the screen in the moment after inserting your card and before entering your PIN number. Sometimes it’s a notification of when the machine will be offline, sometimes it’s promotions, and sometimes, it’s a warning from the bank to not give out your personal details over the phone.
And it’s tempting to think that “I’d never be dumb enough to fall for this”. But when you think you’re getting called by a Hong Leong Bank representative, and being referred to seemingly legit police sergeants with legit numbers from the Penang Police Station, your state of mind might change. One of CILISOS editor’s friends, Davina, was a victim. We can vouch that Davina is a well-adjusted, intelligent lady, but this scam was so elaborate, that even she was *spoiler alert* almost convinced.
We spoke to her to find out more about her experience.
The first call came from “Hong Leong Bank”
The weird number had called Davina before. She missed the first call, but when the number contacted her a second time her husband picked it up and passed the phone to her.
“I picked up and a ‘Debt Collector’ says that I’m late in re-paying a RM50,000 loan I applied for, at a Hong Leong Bank in Penang, and charges will be made if I don’t pay up in 2 hours.” – Davina
The problem is, Davina had no such account. On top of that, she’s based in Kuala Lumpur, so having applied for a loan in Penang, Davina was slightly suspicious. However, things got serious when the debt collector read Davina her account details for reference (how the heck did she know?) and proceeded to connect her to a police station in Penang to file a report.
“They did a s**tload of research to get all their bases covered that’s for sure” – Davina
A ‘Sergeant‘ took down her basic details before telling her that his superior will call her back to record a report over the phone.
Eh… Can do police report over the phone? Wat!?
For those of you wondering, no, you can’t make a police report over the phone. You can make a police report online though, but only for certain simple cases that don’t require further investigations, like losing your MyKad. Davina’s case, as the scammers made it out to be, was not that simple. When the scammers called back, it was using the legitimate number of the Penang Police Headquarters.
“Everything up until that point was complete scare tactics, he had me brainwashed. The police involvement from a legit number made it believable” – Davina
In fact, one of the first things the ‘sergeant’ did was to ask Davina to check whether the number was real or not. How could a scammer call you using the police’s real number? While it may not be common knowledge, the practice is called ‘call spoofing’, and anyone willing to pay a little money can do it. In fact, Maybank customers have kena before, so much so they have an entire page dedicated to warning customers about it.
Anyway, the call came from another sergeant who told her to be in absolute privacy during the report-taking, so Davina left her husband and went into another room. Her husband, while concerned, just thought the call required some privacy.
“It was the worst feeling, to be scared and not be able to tell anyone” – Davina
Davina had her ‘details’ convincingly checked over a walkie-talkie on the other end of the line to confirm her background, things escalated.
“The Sergeant then told me that my name is associated with a big drug heist that has just happened. The drug dealer was caught with 16kg of meth and has made over half a million ringgit from it, with half of it still not traced.” – Davina
How was her name involved? As the scammer Sarge told her, the drug dealer gave a statement that named her as a willing accomplice. In it, he claimed that Davina sold the dealer her IC and bank account details in return for some of the drug-dealing profits. Apparently, there’s so much evidence presented by this drug dealer that the sergeant started to blatantly accuse her of hiding something, so she had to convince him that she was innocent.
A little police drama made the whole thing seemed a lot more believable
To prove she was innocent, Davina was asked by the Sergeant to declare over the phone the current balances of all of her bank accounts, and whatever amount she didn’t declare will be used against her in court. So Davina dug out all the bank statements she had on her and listed them out.
The Sergeant became very convincing when he told her to not reveal any private details such as passwords as authorities like him don’t have the right to ask that. He again asked her to keep the whole thing secret from anybody else.
“I was also told not to speak to anyone about this case, for there were many suspects still not caught, and there was a chance that one of them might be in my social circles.”
After the details were collected, she was forwarded to the Sergeant’s superior, an Inspector, to explain her case. The Inspector, who also played his character a little too well, lashed out at her for not being able to speak in Bahasa and hung up on her. With Davina still on the other line, the Sergeant played good cop and called up the Inspector again to explain that she wasn’t an accomplice and he would like for her to help with the investigations.
And finally, came the hook.
After negotiating for a while, the Sargeant hung up on the Inspector and gave Davina two choices. She can either choose to cooperate with the investigations in complete confidentiality, or get arrested under a warrant for at least 45 days at the police HQ in Penang. If she were to cooperate, the Sergeant’s job will be on the line should she be proven guilty. The Sergeant also reminded Davina that drug dealing in Malaysia carries the death sentence.
She chose to cooperate, and the Sergeant proceeded to tell her that she needed to act fast as the bank was to sue her in an hour. She was told that the magistrate court would need to do an audit on all of her bank accounts, so she needed to go to each of her banks at once and transfer all of her legit earnings to the court account, with the Sergeant staying on the line to guide her.
“At this point, I said, ‘Sergeant, I don’t believe you,’ and hung up on the 2.5-HOUR phone call,”
She was so frustrated and angry that she cried and screamed her lungs out, causing her husband, who was clueless about the whole matter, to come and console her. They then went to the nearest police station to make a real report.
Scams are getting more and more credible and elaborate, so increase your skepticism
As it turns out, Davina wasn’t the only person to have fallen for this particular scam before. Earlier this week, the police had uncovered and crippled a Macau scam syndicate with the exact same procedure.
- Pose as bank and police officers and tell the victims that their bank accounts had been misused by crime syndicates.
- Use the hotline number of the Penang police headquarters, which is 04-2221 522.
- Ask the victims to transfer a sum of money before the accounts were frozen.
- Promise that the money will be returned to the victims once the ‘investigations’ are completed.
Davina had since made a police report, and called up Hong Leong Bank to report the case. However, the event caused deep emotional distress to her.
“I was [so] angry that I cancelled important plans, and that I was so easily fooled. I was sad at how people would go to such lengths to create such incredible scams, when they could be spending all that time and effort to make REAL respectable lives for themselves.”
“Most of all, I’m worried that someone as aware and intelligent as I could have fallen for such a trap, because that means that so many others may not be so lucky to stop themselves from sending out their life savings out and never seeing it again.”
Despite the earnest warnings by banks to not entertain calls or requests from them to transfer money or reveal personal information, people keep falling for such scams. Davina admitted that until she received the order to leave her house immediately and transfer the money, she bought into the whole thing, due to the scare tactics employed by the scammers.
SO for Nilai Murni hari ini – If anyone were to call and claim that you have an unknown account opened under your name, the police recommends hanging up immediately and call up the bank yourself to double check. And of course, it won’t hurt to pay attention to the warnings on the ATM screens and online banking sites every once in a while.
We’d like to sincerely thank Davina for being brave enough to share her harrowing experience, so that others don’t have to go through the same thing. If you already have, let us know in the comments so that we can all belajar bersama-sama 🙂