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Beware online transactions and scanning QR codes
Published on: Sunday, April 29, 2018

By S.M. Mohamed Idris

MALAYSIANS use the Internet extensively for news, research, social networking and online shopping.

With 19 million Malaysians using the Internet, we have the highest penetration of online shoppers supporting a business worth RM25bil and is expected to double by the year 2020.

E-commerce is on the rise owing to several advantages such as the convenience of shopping online, price advantages, exclusive deals and availability of reviews.

Booking of airline tickets, hotel rooms and cinema tickets, paying for utility bills and performing transactions with government agencies and banks can all be done online. Consumers making such transactions seldom face any problem provided they follow the proper procedures and don’t get conned by phishing sites.

Problems mostly arise when consumers purchase items through social media sites run by small companies or individuals who do not provide adequate security features or secure payment methods.

This is where unscrupulous parties are able to prey on unsuspecting consumers.

According to the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2017, Malaysians are the world’s biggest users of WhatsApp at 51pc. Facebook and YouTube are also popular among Malaysians at 58pc and 26pc respectively, and WeChat and Instagram at 13pc.

The Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) received about 50 complaints on a variety of online scams over the past one year. But this is only the tip of the iceberg as the actual number is believed to be much higher since many of the complainants were reluctant to pursue the matter further when told of the procedures involved.

Also, the expenses incurred were often more than the claims they were seeking.

In a unique case brought to the attention of CAP, the complainant who had failed to qualify for a bank loan was approached by a man claiming to be a “loan agent” who offered to get him a loan easily and quickly.

The complainant gave the agent his bank debit card number and other personal details.

After a while, he noticed from his bank statements that his account, which was at the minimum level, was suddenly very active with transactions going in and out. He was subsequently arrested by police because several reports had been lodged against him.

He later found out that the agent had advertised brand new scooters costing RM1,000 each for sale on Facebook and interested buyers were required to deposit RM1,000 into a bank account. About 200 people deposited their money into the account and waited for the scooters which were, of course, never delivered.

The agent disappeared and the complainant was left to face the music as it was his bank account that had been used for the fraudulent transactions.

According to recent media reports, Kuala Lumpur Commercial Crime Investigation Department chief ACP Mohd Luthfi revealed that there were 139 cases of online loan scams amounting to RM3.7mil reported in Kuala Lumpur last year.

ACP Mohd Luthfi said the victims were people with cash flow problems who needed money urgently and were tempted by advertisements on social media offering attractive terms such as low interest rate, no guarantor or collateral requirement, immediate approval and hassle-free applications even for those who were blacklisted by banks.

The scammers disappeared with the loan processing fees. And since the amounts were usually quite small, the victims didn’t lodge police reports, thus encouraging the scammers to continue with their criminal activities.

Even more scary are cyber attacks that affect large populations. In Malaysia, a number of automated teller machines (ATM) have been accessed by overseas hackers. This was understood to be due to outdated operating systems in ATMs.

Scammers are becoming smarter by the day as technology evolves, and they keep changing their modus operandi. Therefore, consumers making transactions online should be discreet and keep themselves updated on the activities of the underworld in cyberspace.

When in public places, avoid making online transactions. Also, be wary of scanning quick response (QR) codes as criminals are able to paste their own codes over the original ones.

The authorities must also publish the latest updates on statistics of cyber crimes and how to beat them.

The criminals must be tracked down and punished with the maximum penalty to discourage others from jumping onto the bandwagon.

Banks should also update their ATM operating systems on a regular basis.

S.M. Mohamed Idris
Consumers Association of Penang

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