What types of cyber scams is post seeing in substantial numbers?
We have seen several different types of scams at post, but romance scams are the most common.
- Romance Scam: Syndicates target lonely 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 business person 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.
- Detained American: An alleged U.S. citizen who has been corresponding with the victim (by phone, chat, and/or email) 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 American needs to pay a fine, and lawyer fees may also be requested. The supposed American may be allegedly accompanied by a child. The victim is asked to provide money for the fine and/or lawyer fees.
- Injured American: An alleged U.S. citizen who has been corresponding with the victim (by phone, chat, and/or email) and has been seriously injured in an accident. The supposed American 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.
- 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.
Who are the targets for these scams?
Most victims who have contacted the U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur are middle age or elderly U.S. citizens in the U.S. Many of them have been befriended by syndicates via dating website.
How can someone recognize these scams?
The typical profile of a scam is that someone you have never met in person quickly offers friendship, romance, and/or marriage.
Also, if you get phone calls from local doctors, lawyers, and/or police asking you to pay money for medical procedures, bail, or other services. In reality, Malaysian doctors, the Royal Malaysia Police, and Malaysian lawyers will typically call the U.S. Embassy before making an international phone call.
Be skeptical if someone asks for money to pay hospital bills, visa fees, or legal expenses and/or seems to have many sudden problems overseas.
The perpetrator promises significant prize money, but the recipient must pay taxes and other processing fees up-front for inheritance.
A shipping company asks you to pay money in advance in order to receive package sent by the perpetrators.
How are the scams committed?
Based on the stories we have encountered, all scams are committed initially via the Internet – typically involving dating websites, Facebook, and other social media sites but as the “relationship” progresses, messages are sent by email, text, or WhatsApp.
What key message(s) needs to be delivered to the targeted individuals?
Please do not send any money to people you have never met in person.
Malaysian police or doctors will not make international calls to family and friends to ask for bail money or financial assistance to pay for hospital bills. They will typically call the U.S. Embassy first, and if they haven’t, you should request that they do so first.
Detainees in Malaysia cannot make international phone calls to loved ones for bail money.
When in doubt, check with the U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur.
Are any other entities doing outreach on this topic such as the Malaysian government, NGOs, other embassies?
Other than some newspapers that have published news articles, and individuals who publish write-ups on social media, we are not aware of any formal outreach done by the Malaysian government, NGOs, or other Embassies/High Commissions in Malaysia.
What is the scale of the problem?
Exact statistics are unavailable. The U.S. Embassy Duty Officer [rotates weekly] typically receives 2-3 phone calls over the weeklong duty period from U.S. citizens seeking assistance for a “friend” in Malaysia who has been arrested, detained, held at customs, etc. The ACS Unit and Consular Section also typically receive at least two to three scam emails daily from different victims (most frequently in the U.S.) seeking assistance from the U.S. Embassy to help a “friend” alleging to be a U.S. citizen who is in a bind in Malaysia. Most of the time, the victims have already sent a lot of money (often via wire transfer, Western Union, MoneyGram, etc.) and have run out of money to send. We have encountered victims who have sold their homes and cashed in their retirement savings thinking they are helping a “loved one” who is soon going to go to the U.S. to marry them.
Is there anything unusual or distinctive you are seeing about the cyber scams in Malaysia as opposed to elsewhere in the world?
We are not familiar with the details of cyber scams in other places. Malaysia is believed to be the number one internet scamming hotspot in Asia because of its relaxed immigration policies, combined with advanced IT infrastructure. Many syndicates from mainly western African countries set up shop here in Malaysia and target vulnerable people from first world countries.
Have cyber scams been a problem at post in previous years?
Please also see 14 Kuala Lumpur 110. Malaysia-based criminal syndicates scam more than one thousand U.S. citizens out of millions of dollars each year, causing acute financial and emotional suffering for the victims.
How are the scams coming to post’s attention? Are victims falling for the scams, or merely notifying post of their existence?
Victims often either email or call the U.S. Embassy seeking help. Most victims are falling for the scams; they contact the Embassy hoping we can assist their loved ones or the scammer.