MALAYSIA: Malaysians cheated of over $15m in SMS scams

Malaysia's top mobile phone provider warns customers about recent SMS fraud

The Straits Times
Tuesday, Sept 4, 2007

By Hazlin Hassan

An international syndicate has cheated Malaysians of around RM35 million (S$15.2 million) in the past few months by luring them with SMS messages about having won prizes in lucky draws.

Police said at least 163 cases had been uncovered since January, The Star newspaper reported yesterday.

Varying sums have been lost, but at least one person has reported losing RM1.6 million to the fraudsters.

While the police and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission look into the matter, top mobile phone operator Maxis has issued an alert on its website warning users to be wary of such text messages.

The syndicate is believed to be operating out of Taiwan and Hong Kong, where at least 40 people were arrested recently in connection with the SMS fraud.

The victims were usually sent an SMS message in Chinese telling them they had won a cash prize in a lucky draw -- in most cases, nothing less than RM100,000.

The catch: the victims are told they can only collect their prizes after they have paid for legal and insurance fees. The text message would include two cellphone numbers, one local and one overseas, for the victims to call in order to collect their winnings.

"We believe the syndicate members raked in about RM5 million a month just by sending out SMS messages to the Malaysian public, claiming that they had won a lucky draw," Federal Commercial Crimes Investigations director Commissioner Datuk Ramli Yusof was quoted as saying by The Star.

Datuk Michael Chong, head of the Malaysian Chinese Association's public service and complaints department, said over 40 victims had approached him for help.

The man who said he was cheated out of RM1.6 million said he replied to a text message telling him he had won US$2.5 million (S$3.8 million). He followed up on the message and was told he had to transfer real cash to a bank account to unlock the prize money.

"He's now crying in my office," Datuk Chong told The Straits Times.

Datuk Chong, who has achieved something approaching cult status here as a saviour of Chinese victims of loan sharks, con artists and other criminals, will disclose more details of the SMS fraud today.

In the meantime, he has this advice for people tempted by similar messages from out of the blue: "As the Chinese say, big frogs don't come leaping down the street. You can't get things for free."