Sunday, August 30, 2009

Of Robbers, Scammers and Everything (Not) Nice!

Have you ever read news about incidences in which are terrifying to read, but never seem real as it has never happened to you? I’ll give you a simple example. How about last night's news about a robbery where the occupants of the house were tied up and held captive while the bastard robbers ransacked their house and ran away with their riches? Usually when I read this, I would immediately sympathise with the victims. But would I be more conscious about the safety of my own home? Not necessarily! Maybe because I live right smack in the middle of KL, opposite a row of active shophouses, busy with a flurry of activity even at night, especially so when it is the EPL season and the local kedai mamak is full with loud footie supporters and I do not need to pay Astro for my sports package channel to be able to know when ManU has scored a goal yet again against Arsenal. “Goal!!!!” they would shout in the middle of the night.

Okay back to my topic. The same thing happens whenever I read forwarded emails about parang wielding robbers, storming through the house gates immediately after the car owner drives into his porch. Or about snatch thieves! Yes, I would be a wee bit more careful, but still, as it had never hit home, it never really changed my perspective. Until something terrifying actually happened to me.

About a year ago, as I was waiting for a traffic light in Bangsar, a man smashed my window and ran away with my (first ever Coach) handbag. The first smash cracked my window. And the second smash broke it into pieces, and in a minute he was already jumping on a waiting motorcycle with my handbag. Yes, I was screaming bloody murder, but because I was shocked, I could not even remember how he looked like, let alone the details of the getaway motorcycle. It all seemed so surreal! But since the incident, I am definitely more aware of my surroundings, I am more suspicious of people, and I do take those forwarded emails more seriously.

But what about phishing scams and frauds via email? Usually I would just delete those emails and laugh at the stupidity of these fraud attempts. I mean come on, why would someone even bother clicking on the link when it clearly shows a different web address when you put your mouse cursor over it? Or why would someone even believe that a person in a foreign country (usually too complicated to pronounce) has inherited millons of dollars but is willing to share this inheritance with you?

Until again, it hits home – this time not directly at me, but rather at my family.

The older generation are not as IT savvy as we are. They are more gullible to believing anything in the internet due to their lack of experience in navigating through the web. Therefore, a friend of my father (let’s call him Z) was conned into believing that there is a girl in Abidjan, Africa who had just lost her millionaire father. Since she is underaged, she is unable to cash into this wealth, and does not trust her mendacious uncles who are more than willing to kill her for her wealth. Therefore she sought help from Z to apply for guardianship so that she is able to transfer these funds to him, and they will then split this money 50:50.

But to transfer this money, Z first needs to pay for a couple of charges. First it was to get documents for transfer of the consignment box which supposedly will be used to carry the money to Malaysia. Then the consignment box went missing, and he again had to pay for a new box. Then pay for a new set of documents. Then he got a “bit” smart and told the girl to wire the money straight to his bank. Then he had to pay tax. At this point, he was already broke, had already mortgaged his house, borrowed money left and right and was in debt with money lenders (Along). Unfortunately, in the process of the money being wired into Malaysia, the funds were supposedly intercepted by a financial regulatory body in the UK. Apparently due to the large sum, these funds were feared to be linked to terrorism and therefore had to have credentials in the form of an Anti Terrorist Clearance Certificate. And to issue the certificate, this organisation is asking for £109,000 (pounds)!

And this was where my father came in. Z came begging for my father’s help. He promised my father a fair split in the inheritance in exchange for a loan of £109,000. He showed my father (obviously fake) certificates, passports, bank payment advices – and my father actually believed him! So yesterday, my father was busy looking for flight tickets to London to supposedly meet with this regulatory body. Thankfully, my father isn’t dumb enough to simply bank in money to anyone he hasn’t met. He wanted to see the documents in black and white and talk to the person face to face before giving them a single penny. Meanwhile my stepmothers were screaming bloody murder, in fear that my father would be kidnapped by these scammers as soon as he lands in Heathrow – which is in fact quite a rational possibility!

In frustration at his stupidity, I arranged a teleconference between myself, my father and this financial regulatory body in the UK. Yes, they do exist and it is a legit organization, but the scammers had used the name for scamming purposes. During the teleconference, the lady representing the organization was very helpful and clarified that their organization would never in any way ask for money as they are a regulatory body, and not a bank! Due to the call, my father is now slowly accepting the fact that he would not be rich in a blink of an eye. Unfortunately, Z isn’t. He is still constantly calling my father, asking for financial assistance. I think he is in denial.

Let this be a lesson to everyone: there really is no way to make a quick buck!

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