By Aishah Afandi

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia--Losing the money you work hard on is a harrowing experience, especially when it is the last bit of money that is left in your account.

But what can we do about it? Are we a victim of fraud and should we be quiet about it?

Financial fraud has been on the rise since the boom of digital and it has been worsening since the beginning of the pandemic.

Desperation by the people and low level of financial literacy has given scammers an edge to prey on victims especially involving personal loans.

Low rates regardless of your credit rating are the main key selling points that are being used. As normal desperate human beings, we tend to believe what is being said to us as we would not be able to think clearly at that point of time.

To make things worse, such scams are advertised “legally” on social media giving it access to many Malaysians who possess little to no financial knowledge on how to apply for loans, work and what are the criteria that has been set by the governing body.  

Combing through the comment section, it is easily seen hundreds or even thousands of people asked to personally message them and while some even complained that they have conducted the necessary payment, but the loan has yet to be received.

This is saddening because these people who are eyeing to apply for such loans are in the dark and are really hoping for some financial aid or release.

But yet, they have lost their money instead of getting the amount they were hoping for.

In other words, social media has become an enabler for financial fraud at a larger scale in today’s world.

This also does not include agents who falsely advertise the rates of the banks they are attached to and when it was pointed out that that is not how loan application works, the staff threatened to leak all relevant documents that were passed prior.

To make things even worse, sometimes account holders even lose our money in our account to fraud and we do not even know how.

As an example, a few weeks ago a close friend of mine lost about RM100 from her debit banking account via a transaction that she did not perform.

When we called the bank, to our surprise, the bank said “There has been an increase in fraud cases over the past week and what we can do is to block your card. Please go to the nearest bank to get a new card”.

Yes, we can raise a dispute but what is the guarantee we will get our money back? It is close to none.

She was not the first to fall victim to such transactions, and definitely would not be the last.

To some, RM100 may be nothing, but in my eyes, it is a lot given that it was the last bit of her money and it triggered me to ask, how weak can our system be to allow this to happen?

In a discussion with a police officer at a local police station on Thursday, he said “we have received a lot of reports on this but if the transaction has been made, there is not much we can do about it. On the safe side, just make a report to ensure your Identity Card (I/C) will not be misused by anyone”.

The bottom line is, in the long run, these incidents will instill fear directly to the financial sector which will leave a huge impact on its reputation, reliability and trustworthiness.

Financial literacy is needed to avoiding getting scammed

Based on the Malaysian National Strategy for Financial Literacy (2019-2023), it has noted that Malaysians have low confidence regarding their own financial knowledge.

1 in 3 Malaysians rate themselves to be of low financial knowledge, while low-income households tend to have lower financial knowledge.

One of the outcomes that has been outlined in the strategy is to protect oneself from fraud and financial scams.

However, when the pandemic hits in 2020 and is prolonged to 2021, unfortunately the level of desperation for financial relief has increased, driven by the sharp rise in unemployment.

Hence, the plan to increase financial literacy must not only be just talk but real measures must be taken immediately to avoid more Malaysians falling prey to such scams.

Here’s advice from one Malaysian to another: If the deal sounds too good to be true, please do not fall prey to it and if you are a victim of fraud or being threatened by a bank staff, please do not hesitate to report it to the bank as well as the police.

Those who come across any form of suspicious financial fraud may report to the CCID Scam Response Centre between 8am–8pm every day at 03-26101559 and 03-26101599.

Where are we on digital security?

Recently, Malaysians were shocked with news that personal data from the National Registration Department (NRD) has been up for sale on the dark web and following that, there has been a rise in concern regarding it.

While the Home Ministry has denied the allegations, the latest report by Experian has shown an increase of 76.6 per cent in newly compromised personal records found in the dark web over the last 18 months while according to Cyber Security, a total of 319 identity theft cases have been reported in Malaysia.

This was done based on their tool called TrackMyID, an identity theft monitoring tool to help Malaysians track if their digital identities have been compromised or sold on the Dark Web.

To my surprise (well I’m not really surprised), three out of 10 identities that were checked were compromised including myself.

The bigger question is, how did they get our identity? Was it sold, was it the act of various agents who are dishonest or was it hacked? And what is the step that will be taken to ensure such incidents do not reoccur?

Protect yourself as much as you can

While online transactions have now become a norm and social media has become part of our lives, what we can do at our end is to be extra careful with who we share our private information with.

Given that our phone number, account number, email, I/C number and address are easily obtained everywhere, our last wall of defence to protect our finances is by never sharing our one-time-password, card details especially card verification value (CVV) as well as our banking password.

Also, never auto-save passwords on any website or even on your own computer to avoid data being compromised.

As for personal loans that offer unbelievable low rates, understand that banks will never ask you to transfer any amount of money beforehand and if they ever ask you to transfer to a personal account, block the number immediately and report it to the bank and police.

We must equip ourselves with the basic knowledge of loan application such as credit ratings as well as interest rates.

And if you fall prey to such incidents, do not be afraid. Report it to the authorities.

*Aishah Afandi is a licensed financial advisor, journalist and social activist*