U.S. citizens can become victims of scams at home or abroad. There are many different types of scams, but they all share a common goal: monetary gain for the scammers.
Internet Financial Scams
We receive inquiries every day from people who have been defrauded for hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars by Internet contacts they thought were their friends or loved ones. Internet scams are attempts by con artists to convince you to send them money, and an increasing number of these scams originate in Malaysia.
The most common scams involve someone allegedly in Malaysia who is in some sort of trouble. Con artists usually pose as U.S. citizens who have unexpectedly experienced a medical, legal, financial, or other type of emergency in Malaysia that requires immediate financial assistance. Co-conspirators may pose as Malaysian lawyers or medical professionals to verify the story and the supposed urgent need for cash. If this is someone you have not met in person (even if you have been corresponding with them online or via social media for some time), we urge you to stop communicating with whoever sent the message, and please do not send any money to them. In many cases, scammers search the Internet for victims, and spend weeks or months building a relationship. Once they have gained their victim’s trust, the scammers create a false situation and ask for money. Scammers can be very clever and deceptive, creating sad and believable stories that will make you want to send them money.
Before you send funds, check to see if you recognize any of the following signs that you may be a victim of a scam:
- You only know your friend or fiancé/fiancée online and may never have met in person.
- Photographs of the scammer show a very attractive person, which appears to have been taken at a professional modeling agency or photo studio.
- The scammer’s luck is incredibly bad – he/she is in a car crash, or arrested, or mugged, or beaten, or hospitalized. Close family members are dead or unable to assist. Sometimes, the scammer claims to have a young child overseas who is ill or hospitalized.
- You have sent money for visas or plane tickets but they can’t seem to make it to their destinations, citing detention by immigration officials, or other reasons that prevent them from traveling.
- Beware of anyone who requests funds for a BTA, or Basic Travel Allowance, as a requirement to depart another country for the United States. There is no such thing as a BTA. In other cases, your Internet friend will claim to need a travel allowance, or travel money, to be able to travel to the United States. Again, there is no such requirement under U.S. law.
- The scammer claims to have been born and raised in the United States, but colloquialisms and usage are indicative of a non-native English speaker.
- Although the scammer may claim to be in Malaysia, he or she may ask that the money be sent to an account in another country.
- The scammer may even claim to be contacting you from a U.S. Embassy, where your partner, business associate, or friend is being detained pending payment of some type of fee. S. Embassies do not detain people.
Some of the most common scam scenarios that we see in Malaysia include:
- Romance Scams: Scam rings target people without immediate family and vulnerable people, conning them out of money, in exchange for promises of a relationship and marriage. Large teams search the Internet and matchmaking sites to victimize people. Scammers pose as attractive U.S. or European citizens (or residents) on online dating websites using fake photographs. Over time, the scammer weaves a story of being a successful businessperson working overseas, often claiming to be brought up outside the U.S. to explain their non-U.S. accent before unexpectedly experiencing a medical, legal, financial, or immigration emergency in Malaysia that requires immediate financial assistance. See this infographic for more information.
- Detained U.S. Citizens: An alleged U.S. citizen who has been corresponding with the victim is suddenly detained by customs/immigration on the way in or out of Malaysia or by a Malaysian authority for a contrived reason. The supposed U.S. citizen needs to pay a fine, and lawyer fees may also be requested. The supposed U.S. citizen may be allegedly accompanied by a child. The victim is asked to provide money for the fine and/or lawyer fees.
- Injured U.S. Citizens: An alleged U.S. citizen who has been corresponding with the victim has been seriously injured in an accident. The supposed U.S. citizen may be allegedly accompanied by a child. The victim is told that the Malaysian hospital and/or doctor will not proceed with an urgent medical procedure unless the medical fee is provided first. This is not true – public hospitals in Malaysia, as in the United States, will provide urgent and life-saving care regardless of a patient’s ability to pay.
- Parcel Scam: A person in Malaysia cons a victim overseas into sending money to get a parcel released from a delivery service or customs.
- Inheritance Scam: A person in Malaysia cons a victim into thinking that the victim or a person in Malaysia stands to inherit a large sum of money as soon as a “processing fee” is provided. If the person is not the direct inheritor, a portion of the inheritance is promised.
We urge U.S. citizens to be extremely cautious about sending money to people who claim to be in trouble in Malaysia. There is very little to be done after the fact to recover your money. Please note that U.S. Embassy Kuala Lumpur is not involved in the investigation and prosecution of crimes in Malaysia. Victims of online crimes may file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov.
If you have been contacted in a way that fits the above pattern by someone who is claiming to be a U.S. citizen, please send as many details as you can (including the full name, date of birth, and U.S. passport number of the alleged U.S. citizen) to us at KLACS@state.gov BEFORE you send any money to them. While we cannot investigate scams and other crimes which occur in Malaysia, we may be able to verify whether the alleged U.S. passport information is legitimate.