Have you ever come across news of someone getting scammed, and you thought to yourself: 'It is common sense that it is a scam, so how did they fall for the trap?'.
I was one of those people.
I thought that I would be able to smell a scam from a mile away, and I was so certain that I was street and tech savvy enough to avoid getting scammed.
"There's no way I'll get scammed," I thought to myself, laughing internally at those scammers who's brave enough to try and con me.
Well, until the day I was this
closed to getting scammed.
A convincing case
It all started last weekend when I received a phone call from a number that's not saved in my phone book.
It was from a relative that I do not hear from often (let's call him Uncle John), and he called to inform me that he's switched numbers because he lost his handphone and his wallet.
He then told me that another reason he's calling is to invite me to a grand opening of his new business, a pharmacy that he's just opened with several of his friends.
Thinking nothing of it, I agreed to attend and saved his new number.
The next day, I woke up to two missed calls from Uncle John.
He called back ten minutes later, and asked if I was busy earlier because I did not pick up his calls.
I said yes (because obviously, I did not want to tell him that I woke up at 10am on a weekend, duh!), and it was then he went straight to the point: he needed to borrow some money urgently.
He said he needed RM7,000, as a supplier from his pharmacy needed the cash before they can send out the stock to his pharmacy.
He then went on to explain that he lost his bank cards when he lost his wallet, and he assured me that he would transfer the money back to me as soon as he replaces them.
Because 1) I am kiasap
and 2) I have no money because writers don't get paid well, I hesitated for a little bit.
I told him that I would have to check how much I have in the bank account (although I'm fully aware that I have only RM10 left, LOL) before I agree to transfer any money to him, and he told me that he would call me back in approximately eight minutes time.
During the eight minutes -- I have no idea why he can't make it ten -- I was internally debating to myself: should I lend him the money? If I turn him down, would our Chinese New Year gathering be super awkward next year? Or maybe I should just lend him half of that amount?
Uncle John called back as I was still figuring out what I should do, so to buy some more time, I told him that I do not have that much cash on hand right now, and the most I could afford to loan him was RM500.
I explained that I've deposited most of my money into a fixed deposit account, and I would have to head over to the bank to withdraw the rest.
Without missing a beat, Uncle John told me to head to the bank immediately, and withdraw as much as I can and transfer it to him.
He added that he would even pay me back for the interest I would lose if I were to close my fixed deposit account prematurely.
It was at that moment that alarms started going off in my head.
Now, despite not seeing him often, I know Uncle John. He's quite well to do, and his businesses generally do well.
On top of that, he has never borrowed money from me or my family members before, and I don't think he would ever use losing his bank cards as an excuse to borrow money.
So, I got in contact with Aunty Jane, who is Uncle John's sister, and briefed her about Uncle John's weird behaviour.
To my shock, Aunty Jane told me that Uncle John did not change his phone number, nor did she hear him talk about starting a pharmacy business.
Aunty Jane told me that she would call Uncle John to rectify the issue, and true enough, Uncle John called me a few minutes later - using his original number!
After that, I blocked the number and promptly warned my family members.
...and breathe a sigh of relief that I get to keep the RM10 in my bank account.
After I had some time to digest what happened, I realised that there were some very suspicious signs throughout the entire ordeal.
I now understand why people fall for these scams; when you're in the heat of the moment, your mind typically shuts off, especially when you're dealing with a so-called family member/relative.
In my case, the sense of helping a relative in need overpowered my instincts at that moment, and I realised later that it is exactly what the scammers hoped I would do.
Here are some of the suspicious signs I noticed:
1) The scammer did not introduce himself
I know what you're thinking; if he didn't introduce himself, how did you know that he was your relative? That's the thing: I didn't.
that he was Uncle John because the scammer sounded exactly like him, down to the tone of voice and the way he talks.
When I picked up his first call, he said: "Do you know who I am? Don't tell me you can't recognise my voice?
That was when I assumed it was Uncle John on the other line, because he sounded just like him over the phone.
Once the scammer got a name from me, he would then pretend to be 'Uncle John' from that moment on because I gave him an identity.
2) Fake Uncle John was too desperate for money
The only thing scammers want from us is money, and they will not stop until they get it.
The moment he asked me to withdraw all the money I have from my fixed deposit account was the exact moment I realised something was off, because the real Uncle John I know is not desperate.
Real Uncle John is a soft spoken man and he carries himself really well, and I can't ever imagine him asking a nephew for money.
And even if he did, I believe that he would have stopped the moment I offered to loan him RM500.
Besides, if he really needed the cash, he could've asked his sister Aunty Jane for help - something that Aunty Jane pointed out to me as well.
3) There was a beep before the call connects
OK, this one is pretty easy to miss, but being a pretty observant person (cheh!), I noticed that there was a beep right after I pick up the call and say hello, right before 'Uncle John' answers.
I heard the beep all three times I answered his call, and by the third call, I started getting really suspicious.
A family member suggested that the beep could be a voice changer, because like I mentioned above, fake Uncle John sounded exactly like the real Uncle John.
I honestly can't tell you if the beep was from a voice changer, but considering that we have an app for everything these days -- and the fact that more and more people are falling for scams -- I wouldn't be surprised if scammers have upped their game.
After the close call, I've decided to be more vigilant, especially when it comes to picking up calls from unknown numbers.
I was lucky enough to spot the scam before it was too late (bye bye RM10!), but I realised that although I am savvy enough to know when things get really suspicious, my parents or aunts or uncles might not be.
So, this is what you can do if you're unfortunate enough to get stuck in a position like I did:
1) Question everything
I realised that I could have spotted the scam sooner if I stopped and questioned everything.
Why do you need the money? What is it for? When can you pay me back? Who else did you ask for money from?
And the most important question: what the eff is your name?
Do not make the same mistake I did by assuming that the person on the other line is someone you know. I'm pretty sure your real relative wouldn't mind identifying themselves.
2) Check and check again
Even if the scammer makes a convincing case, always remember to check and then double check.
Before you decide to withdraw all your hard-earned money to help a relative, call another relative to check if said relative is strapped for cash, just like I did with Aunty Jane.
If the scammer uses the same modus operandi (i.e. lost my phone so I've changed my number), try calling the old number and see if your real relative picks up.
It's always better to be safe than sorry.
3) Never reveal any personal information
While the scammer did not get that far with me (suck it, losers!), it is always important to remember not to reveal any personal information to anyone.
They might ask you for your IC number, or your personal banking details, or ask you to click on a suspicious link.
When they do, the correct answer is: 'Ehh, you think I'm stupid issit? <insert your favourite cuss word here>'
4) Never think that you're too smart to kena scam
Even if you're the smartest person in the room, always remember that there are people out there smarter than you.
And in this case, these smart people are armed with voice changers and maybe more than RM10 in their bank accounts.
So, it's always better to be the 'dumb' one than be the smart one that got scammed.