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Preying on pandemic desperation, fraudsters ramp up online job offer scams

The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission urged the public to protect themselves from falling victim by being alert during online communications as well as avoiding suspicious weblinks, text messages, pop-up windows, email attachments and requests for personal details or money. — Picture by Choo Choy May

By R. Loheswar

Thursday, 11 Aug 2022 7:00 AM MYT

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 11 — Fake job offers online have become a new favorite of fraudsters targeting Malaysians desperate for income and employment that both dried up during the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), it received 5,802 reports of online scams and fraudulent activities from 2020 until June 30 this year.

It urged the public to protect themselves from falling victim by being alert during online communications as well as avoiding suspicious weblinks, text messages, pop-up windows, email attachments and requests for personal details or money.

“Apart from working hand-in-hand with other enforcement agencies, it is also necessary for the public to increase self-awareness and take proactive actions on the matter through various advocacy and awareness campaigns such as Say No To Scam, Click Dengan Bijak (KDB), Malaysia ICT Volunteer (MIV) well as collaboration with police were taken to protect the consumers,” the MCMC said in a statement to Malay Mail.

Malay Mail contacted the MCMC regarding the growing number of scams masquerading as unsolicited job offers, the latest of which was from fraudsters claiming to represent the TikTok social media platform.

This was the most recent evolution of the online deception ranging from Macau scams, love scams, and fake loan offers that the Royal Malaysia Police previously said cost Malaysians RM3.3 billion in losses in 2020.

The job offer scams mushroomed during the pandemic, when repeated movement control orders (MCO) cost the jobs and livelihoods of millions of Malaysians and made many vulnerable to enticing offers of easy paying gig work.

For this scam, fraudsters would send unsolicited messages to potential victims offering pay of between RM600 and RM4,000 daily in exchange for performing trivial tasks such as watching videos or “liking” items offered for sale on popular shopping platforms.

The message would claim to offer work that was easy, may be done remotely from home at one’s convenience, and lucrative.

When potential victims respond, they would be told to provide their personal information and to pay an administrative fee for the privilege of securing the work.

The scam is complete once the payment is made to the fraudsters.

Another form is requiring the victims to click a web link or download an app to enter their banking details — including their online login — in order to receive payment. Once stolen, this information allows the fraudsters to drain the victims’ accounts at their leisure.

Some scammers also pretend to be attractive young girls to befriend male targets, before encouraging them to participate in online football betting.

Some purport to be representatives of TikTok but a spokesperson said Malay Mail that the company did not use text messaging or chat apps for recruitment.

“We have shared in-app notices and on our owned social channels, alerting our community to be vigilant to these fraudulent TikTok-branded text messages. We only share notices or reach out to users via our official channels, including TikTok, Facebook and Instagram, and do not do so via text messages.

“All job opportunities on TikTok are shared on TikTok’s official careers page, as well as LinkedIn,” the TikTok spokesperson told Malay Mail when contacted.

Online shopping platform Shopee was another favorite of the fraudsters attempting the job offer scam, due in part to its popularity among Malaysian users.

The situation was so pervasive that Shopee published a warning page to expressly warn against such scams.

“Shopee does not employ any individuals to recruit employees through messaging platforms for purposes of ‘increasing the exposure rate of merchants’. Moreover, Shopee will only be hosting contests such as ‘Lucky Draws’, ‘Tap and Win’ and ‘Spin and Win’ via the official Shopee app, official Shopee social media pages and official Shopee WhatsApp verified business account, which will bear the ‘ verified’ check marks,” a Shopee spokesperson told Malay Mail.

“Should any member of the public find themselves being offered questionable job opportunities or contests, or have fallen victim to such scams, please contact the nearest police station and file a police report immediately.”

Malay Mail also found fake job offers purporting to be from MyTheo, Malaysian Digital Economy Corporation, Smart Nation and The Kelu Foundation, among others.

There were also messages that came with no company name but offered US dollars in exchange for working with them.

MCMC has advised the public to be vigilant when receiving calls or messages via SMS from unknown and suspicious individuals and immediately refer the matter to the relevant authorities.

Consumers are also encouraged to channel information and submit complaints regarding scams to the Commercial Crime Investigation Department’s Scam Response Center at 03-2610 1559 or 03-2610 1599), between 8am and 8pm daily.

Such scams were so prevalent that a police officer from the Commercial Crimes Department, ASP Rahmat Fitri, has taken to making awareness videos posted on TikTok.

In these, he explains the scams and breaks down the methods used, before providing viewers with tips on how to identify fraudsters.

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