9 Common Online Scams Every Malaysian Should Be Aware Of By Now

Know how to spot scams that are too good to be true.

Cover image via

1. The Rental Scam. Common in classifieds sites and forums.

Screenshot of a list of rentals available on Gumtree, a popular classifieds site.

Image via Gumtree

Modus operandi: The conmen usually advertise incredible properties at attractive rents in exclusive areas. They will then trick the target by asking them to transfer their deposits and rental advances through money transfer agencies such as Western Union.

Example: Sisters Alexandra, 19, and Zaire Sheppard, 18, from Holloway wanted to leave home and rent their own flat. They spotted an advert on the Gumtree website for a two-bedroom apartment in Belgrove Street close to King’s Cross. The cost was £650 per month plus a deposit of £700. They emailed the owner ‘Lin Dong’ who told Alexandra that he had trouble with tenants before and he wanted proof that they could afford the rent and deposit. So he asked Alexandra to send a payment of £1350 through Western Union, not to him, but to a trusted friend or relative. All ‘Lin Dong’ asked for was a scanned copy of the transfer payment receipt so that he could verify that she had the available funds.

Alexandra sent the payment to her sister Zaire, through a Western Union franchise in Golders Green and then emailed the receipt to ‘Lin Dong’. The transfer document clearly stated that the ‘Receiver’ was Zaire Sheppard. That was the last Alexandra heard from ‘Lin Dong’… because sometime after sending the money, a fraudster, with fake ID, pretending to be Zaire Sheppard walked into a Western Union office somewhere in the world with the scanned receipt and took the money. Alexandra said: “I was put off my guard because I was not asked to send the money directly to Lin Dong – I sent the money to my sister.”

Always arrange for an onsite tour of the property.

Image via uvuqgwtrke

What you should do:
1. Always ensure that you arrange for an on-the-site tour of the said property.
2. Check out the rental rates of other properties to see the going rate. If the rate is much lower than the average rate, it probably is a scam.
3. Run a Google image search on the property photos.

2. The Romance Scam. Common in online dating sites and social networks.

An example of an online profile.

Image via Romancescams

Modus operandi: The con artist will make a fake account on a dating site such as OKCupid or eHarmony and will often target lonely women or men. These con artists are more sophisticated, and slowly build trust as a budding romance ripens. Then the request for money comes, normally a relatively small amount at first; but once the hooks are in, the victim struggles to turn down subsequent heftier demands without admitting to having been hoodwinked.

Example: A Victoria woman who was bilked out of $88,000 in a romance website scam says a man charmed her over several months, convincing her to send money for a construction project in Malaysia.

The victim, in her 60s, met the man in June on The man said he was in Vancouver and wanted to meet for coffee. The woman initially declined but then reconnected with him two weeks later. He said he had left for Malaysia on a business trip but the two continued to talk via Yahoo messenger over the summer.

Claiming to be originally from Quebec, the man said he was involved in a project to build an event centre in Kuala Lumpur. He sent her pictures, contracts and other details.

Eventually, the man said he was set to come back to Vancouver but needed $3,000 to pay his supplier. When the woman offered to give him a loan, he initially said no, which made her think it wasn’t a scam. He asked that money be sent to a bank account number with a name, although it wasn’t the name he was using.

In August, the woman sent the first payment of $3,000. The man kept making excuses for why he needed more money and promised she would get it back. She sent another $4,000, then two payments of about $40,000.

As he continued to ask for money, she finally did some digging and his story fell apart. The company he claimed to work for had no record of him. The man had given her a name and phone number that belonged to a Vancouver man with no idea about a Malaysian project.

Perform a reverse search of the image to see if there are duplicates.

Image via netsafe

What you should do:

1. Protect yourself by running a reverse Google image search on the photo. Check to see if the image matches any other profile.
2. Arrange a meet up at a public place where there is a lot of people. Bring a friend to look out for you.
3. Check if the person is real by setting up a video call. Any hesitance to do so usually means that it is a scam.

Read another first hand account of how a Malaysian woman got scammed here.

3. The Nigerian Fraud Scheme. Common in emails and social networks.

Image via Peninsularity

Modus operandi: Nigerian letter frauds combine the threat of impersonation fraud with a variation of an advance fee scheme in which an email from Nigeria offers the recipient the “opportunity” to share in a percentage of millions of dollars that the author—a self-proclaimed government official—is trying to transfer illegally out of Nigeria. The recipient is encouraged to send information to the author, such as blank letterhead stationery, bank name and account numbers, via email. The scheme relies on convincing a willing victim to send money to the author of the letter in Nigeria in several instalments of increasing amounts for a variety of reasons.
Image via vanguardng

What you should do:

1. Remember there are no get-rich-quick schemes: the only people who make money are the scammers.
2. Do not let anyone pressure you into making decisions about money or investments: always get independent financial advice.
3. Do not open suspicious or unsolicited emails (spam): delete them.
4. NEVER reply to a spam email (even to unsubscribe).
5. Never send your personal, credit card or online account details through an email.
6. Money laundering is a criminal offence: do not agree to transfer money for someone else.

4. The Auction And Merchandise Scam. Common in auction sites such as eBay.

Image via hubhomedesign

Modus operandi: Typically, this scam will consist of someone posting a product for sale on an auction site to "sell" the product to the highest bidder. The product, however, is either nonexistent or not the product described on the auction site. Scammers will try to collect the full funds from the winning bidder before shipping the product.

Example: A man who arranged to swap a gaming system through Craigs List, and then delivered a box of rocks instead of the system, was arrested Aug. 21 and charged with larceny.
Image via livemint

What you should do:

1. Be clear about where you want your goods shipped to.
2. Check that the auction site itself is established and trustworthy.
3. Always avoid new sellers and go for trustworthy and highly ranked ones.
4. Use trackable means of payment that offer protection against fraud.
5. Be clear about what exactly you are bidding on.

5. The Credit Card Scam. Common in fake websites mimicking banks.

A fake website designed to look similar to Maybank2u, a Malaysian bank. Notice the fake URL on top.

Image via rojaks.blogspot

Modus operandi: This scam requests that a consumer registers or inputs credit card information on a fraudulent website. The site may sell products or services. When a reputable, trustworthy vendor asks for credit card information, it won't save the data without user permission and will take steps to keep user information safe. Fraudulent sites will ask for the same information as does a reputable site, but will steal the information and make purchases using the data the credit card owner gave to the website.

You don't ever want to say something like this.

Image via

What you should do:
1. Do not ever allow the card out of your sight.
2. Check your payment receipt every time and make sure the amount is correct.
3. Try not to write the pin number anywhere and memorise it well.
4. Get the card cancelled if misplaced in any case.
5. Be careful while making big transactions.
6. Be careful while responding to special offers online.

6. The Lottery Scam. Common in emails and social network sites.

A sample lottery scam one of our colleagues received. They used Tenaga Nasional's name in this case.

Image via

Modus operandi: Fake lottery scams will try to persuade you that you’ve won a huge amount of money in an online draw. Of course, those behind this fraud then try to trick you into revealing your personal information as you try to collect your winnings.

Don't get carried away. If you never joined the lottery, it probably is a scam.

Image via

What you should do:

1. Never entertain communication from the contest if you know that you never entered the lottery.
2. Do not supply your personal information.
3. Don't entertain if the operator of the lottery requires a fee before releasing your ‘winnings’.

7. The Overpayment Scam. Common in auction and classifieds sites.

Image via

Modus operandi: The con artist will purchase an item the target puts on sale on an auction site. The con artist will overpay by a generous amount to cover the cost of shipping with the difference to be refunded back. Usually, the PayPal account and eBay account is hijacked and the seller would lose both the product and hand cash to the scam artist just like that.

Example: "In my case, I sold a computer on eBay. The buyer wanted me to ship it out of the country and sent me a generous payment via PayPal, asking me to simply refund the difference after I knew the actual shipping cost. The only hitch: The PayPal payment notification was a fake and the eBay account was hijacked. If I’d fallen for the scam, I would have lost my computer and handed cash to the criminal in the process."

Always be careful.

Image via

What you should do:
1. Know who you’re dealing with. In any transaction, independently confirm the buyer’s name, street address and telephone number.
2. Never assume that the cheque is legitimate, even if it’s a cashier’s cheque. It may take weeks for the financial institution to learn that it is counterfeit.
3. Never accept a cheque for more than the purchase price of the product or service. Ask the buyer to write the cheque for the correct amount. If the buyer refuses to send the correct amount, return the cheque and do not send the merchandise.
4. Keep in mind, you are the party who is ultimately liable to your financial institution. Be careful!
5. Verify all cheques, as well as certified cheques, with the issuing financial institution. Get the financial institution’s phone number from directory assistance or an Internet site that you know to be reputable, never from the party who gave you the cheque.

8. The Charity Scam. Common in emails, social networks, and websites.

Image via ZDNet

Modus operandi: After each natural disaster or tragic event such as Hurricane Katrina, the Indonesian tsunami or 9/11, scammers ask for charitable donations, usually within the first 24-48 hours. While everyone else is trying to get over the shock and starting to think about how to help, the scammers are exploiting it to make money through online transfers.
Image via bbb

What you should do:
- Check whether there are alternative payments to the charity besides Moneygram and Western Union. If there isn't, it usually is a scam.
- Run a Google search to see if the charity is registered properly.
- Visit the original site or call the charity directly to see if the donation page is legitimate.

9. The Share And Win Scam. Common in social network sites.

Image via SAYS

Modus operandi: Scammers will create a fake contest by using a popular brand. The link is seeded on social media and once a user clicks on it, he or she will be redirected to a page which may potentially be used to steal personal information. This scam is hard to control due to the nature of sharing on social networks.

Example: Malaysians were sharing the "H&M" gift vouchers link on social media and were told by H&M that this was a fake contest. Read more about it here.

Image via SAYS

What you should do:
1. Hover and check the URL to see if it's suspicious.
2. Contact H&M or view their social media pages to see if they are running this contest.
3. Report the posts shared by your friends and comment on their post to remove it.
4. Limit the spread of the scam by removing the post.

Always be careful when money is involved online. Learn more on how to educate yourself on these scams here.

Here are other examples of scams that we all should be careful of