It began with a simple message, “hello”. Sirinya (not real name), a CFO of a manufacturing company, looked down at the message and saw the profile of a handsome army officer wearing fatigues. The name on the professional networking platform read, ‘Doctor Adhit (not real name)’.
“Where are you?” she asked. She learned that Dr Adhit was an army doctor working overseas. He loved to help people, so he loved his job. Sirinya found him so sweet and kind. They would chat for hours.
“I want to hear your voice. Can I call you?” she asked late one evening. “Sorry, the army base rules forbid any calls for security reasons” he replied. “But I can send you photos and videos if you like?”
Over the next few weeks, they sent videos and photos back and forth. A few months later, it happened. “I think I am in love with you”. Sirinya’s heart jumped. Although now 50 years old, he made her feel like a young girl again.
“I feel the same” she replied. Another few months passed.
Dr Adhit: “Hi, darling. My father passed away.” He explained that he would like to transfer the inheritance from his late father, worth US$85 million to Thailand and buy a luxury home for himself and her.
With some time and work, she found them a beautiful home.
Then Dr Adhit requested that she deposit the money first due to trouble transferring the money out of his Swiss bank account. At the same time, he also requested more money to pay for other expenses related to transferring his large inheritance to Thailand.
Over the next three months, Sirinya used fake invoices and false accounting entries to make 251 transfers to 112 bank accounts in 17 countries. Sirinya transferred money out of her employer’s accounts for four months until the company discovered fraudulent fund transfers exceeding $250 million.
She was charged with 251 counts of theft and 502 years in jail.
Anyone can be a victim!However, by practising and spotting red flags you can help prevent online scam attacks.
Aati (not real name), a Malaysian, was browsing the internet, feeling discouraged. Due to the pandemic, it had been over a year since he was unemployed, the bill collectors were calling, and he was feeling desperate. Then he saw it. An advertisement for a high-paying tech job in Cambodia with a monthly wage of up to US$3,300 per month. He met all the requirements and called the number immediately.
After a brief prep talk on the phone, he received instructions on relocating to Cambodia. However, the instructions to enter Cambodia were a bit strange. Instead of a direct flight, Aati had to enter Thailand illegally by boat and cross the border into Cambodia illegally by vehicle. But Aati felt he had no other options. He had to go!
Upon arrival at the job site, he found a facility resembling a big casino with offices on the higher floors. There were other new recruits from Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand, and Laos. Soon they were greeted by large men wearing suits demanding their passports for immigration.
They were led upstairs to a spacious room laid out like a call centre. Three masked men with taser guns appeared holding a set of handcuffs yelling “Each of you take one and lock your leg to a desk. You work for us now!”
Day and night they worked using the computers to de-fraud innocent people. If they stopped working or didn’t reach a certain goal, they were beaten.
Aati was tasered about three times a week while working tirelessly to defraud people.Aati suffered for almost a month until he found a way to contact the Malaysian Chinese Association’s (MCA) Public Services and Complaints Department, who came to the rescue with assistance from the embassy and Cambodian authorities.
Thousands of people in Southeast Asia, many with tech skills, have been deceived by similar job scams in Southeast Asia involving the loss of money, personal information, and in worst-case scenarios, human trafficking.
Anyone can be a victim! However, by practising and spotting red flags you can help prevent online scam attacks.
“I can’t believe it! I am so in love in only three weeks!” Diwa (not real name) was overjoyed when she thought she met her soulmate Phet (not real name), an interior designer living overseas, via social media at the perfect time of her life.
“Break Time.” She checked her phone and listened to an investment opportunity that Phet proposed.
He said, “My love, it’s not big, but you can make some extra money.” She agreed and made the investment. The next day, the bank called her to inform the money was gone.
Her heart sank as she texted Phet. “I don’t know what to do. My heart surgery is in just a few days, and I just lost US$30,000 in a loan scam!”
Phet replied, “Don’t worry, I have a way for you to get it back. I’ll even give you US$10,000 to start. I’ll fly over to visit you for the surgery and take care of you. But for now, I just need your account information and follow my instructions.”
His instructions were for Diwa to invest money into his platform. He would help purchase and sell shares to make money for her.
This was easy enough for her, after all, he was doing all the work. Soon she opened the website and found a profit of US$30,000.
She was so excited and wanted to sell her profits, to which Phet replied, “If you do that, you will destroy any future we have. And without a future with you, I will kill myself!”
Phet continued to persuade Diwa into investing in the platform by directing her to go to money lenders, sell her car, borrow from friends and family, and eventually use her house as mortgage in Malaysia.
Fortunately, Diwa’s father caught the attention of this and warned her with an article on pig-butchering scams, where a woman lost US$500,000.
In the article, Diwa recognized the photos of Phet, the same man she was speaking to for the last four months; she too was a victim of this scam.
Due to the incident, Diwa had to declare bankruptcy with a debt of US$270,000.
By practising and spotting red flags you can help prevent online scam attacks.
There is a growing relationship between human psychology and technology when it comes to scams, phishing, and identity theft. Technologies can be controlled and protected, but the biology and brain can respond emotionally to specific events.
Cybercriminals identify and exploit these ‘emotional responses’ to exploit victims both financially and emotionally.
When someone is a victim, many people might be thinking ‘how irresponsible, how can anyone fall for something so obvious?’
But ‘scam shaming’ is part of the problem of why awareness of cybersecurity is lagging despite the rapid success rates of cybercriminals.
Scam shaming is extremely unhelpful in responding to these incidents. It discourages people to share the most current updates on the techniques and strategies used by cybercriminals.
As cyber security threats evolve, there is an urgent need for information sharing. In 2009, scam shaming was showcased at a governmental committee meeting on the topic of information security.
The legislator questioned a cyber security panellist on how could it not be possible to develop technology that prevents security risks. To which the panellist respectfully replied that no technology in the world could prevent an individual's finger from pressing the enter key on the keyboard.
As the rate of internet adoption is increasing globally, online scamming incidents happen now more than ever. In this regard, it is unreasonable to expect everyone to be 100% alert and 24/7. Rather, there is a need to understand how people fall victim to these incidents to better learn, respond, and prevent them from happening in the future.
There should be no place for ‘scam shaming’ to foster a cybersecure world. If we truly hope to protect ourselves and the people we know, we must share our experiences.
Charity scams take advantage of individuals who wish to make donations for those in need; in these cases, the victim’s generosity and compassion are exploited. Scammers will steal your money by posing as a genuine charity. Not only do these phishing emails impact a victim’s savings, but they also divert much-needed donations away from real charities and causes.
Fake charity scams happen all year round and often claim to support real disasters or emergencies, such as floods and earthquakes. This can also include charities that conduct medical research or support diseased patients and their families. Criminals may also disguise themselves as individuals needing donations to fulfil their health concerns or other needs.
In Singapore, members of the public were left in shock when a popular charity platform was repeatedly flagged for sending phishing emails. Government officials warned the public against giving away any credit card information and personal details to the impersonators. The incident was a big blow for hundreds of charities that used the charity platform to raise funds, raising doubts for donors and generous givers. The scam alert came after the platform received record donations the previous year.
Fake charities operate in several different ways. Scammers may establish fake websites that look like real charities while some scammers will call or email victims requesting a donation. These criminals can put targeted people under pressure if they don’t want to donate. They may also play with your emotions by claiming to help children who are ill. Are you safe?