I READ with interest and a tinge of sadness the story about the 77-year-old American woman who went to Ma-laysia on the promise of a romance to fill her remaining years on earth, only to find that it was a scam.
She had reportedly lost a lot of money; money she must have saved up during her lifetime, only to lose it to people scamming vulnerable women like her.
Thankfully, the scoundrel and his accomplices were caught and some of her money recovered.
In Malaysia, it was reported that “romance scams or parcel fraud snared close to 200 victims every month in the first quarter of the year, with losses totalling RM23.6 million”.
Bukit Aman Commercial Crime Investigation Department director Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani said 581 such cases were recorded between January and March.
This is a global issue, the common denominator being love. It is conducted via the worldwide web and ensnares the vulnerable and lonely for huge sums of money.
Change the names, locations and sums of money, but the modus operandi remains the same and points to culprits from a certain continent.
So, what would be the odds to find a Malaysian grandmother in the same predicament? A grandmother who arrives at Heathrow Airport in London, with hopes and expectations of finding her lothario clutching a bouquet of flowers, and they would walk past Immigration officers into the sunset together?
There is no prize for guessing because it did happen and, coincidentally, around the same time the American lady learnt her fate after crossing thousands of kilometres, with or without the knowledge of her next of kin.
Unfortunately for the Malay-sian grandmother, the scoundrel who had been seducing her via the WhatsApp application, did not turn up and she was left sleeping on the airport’s benches for two nights. Instead, the alleged engineer of an oil and gas (O&G) company, who sweet-talked her into parting with the proceeds of the sale of her house in Malaysia, had demanded more money before he would fetch her.
The grandmother, a cheerful soul, who looked as if she was visiting her grandchildren, was put under the care of the high commission.
On her way to her temporary accommodation, she still harboured hopes to be united with the one she called her “husband”, as she pointed to a name of a road in west London that was mentioned in their, sometimes steamy, WhatsApp messages.
However, a quick check of the address came up with nothing.
That she was friendly, open, fun to be with and, dare I say, gregarious, made it all the more pitiful. She must have been quite a beauty and a vivacious young lass that caught the attention of many when she was young.
The profile picture on her Facebook account showed one who was outgoing, with a ready smile, not one from a less privileged home. This was the profile that attracted the syndicate to make their move.
Her profile attracted someone who said he was born in Malaysia, but had been brought up in the United Kingdom, and thus did not know a word of Bahasa Malaysia. A dazzling picture of her “beau” showed a young, dashing guy clad in Baju Melayu, not the 59-year-old that he claimed to be.
I, too, had more than a dozen requests and messages from suspicious characters, all working in O&G, who professed to have been bedazzled and smitten by my smile, and sought my friendship simply on that basis.
Back to the Malaysian grandmother. One can only assume that she wanted companionship. The sweet seductive words of the scammers must have been cut and pasted so many times, but to her ears they were what she wanted to hear.
Investigations revealed that she had also been sending money to a person in Scotland, who had “sent” her a package, but the package was held somewhere as she needed to pay the Goods and Services Tax before it could be released. Sadly, this was not the first time she had fallen into such traps.
It is no-brainer that these people are from the same syndicate, the same people, messing up an old lady’s life.
I saw her being wheelchaired into the departure lounge to be flown home and reunited with family members, and I truly hope that she had learnt her lesson.
Would it have helped her to know that she was not a lone victim of these scammers?
A lady lost £20,000 (RM111,200) to an online investment scheme, believed to be in Israel. Initially, it looked believable, but she then realised that she had lost her money.
Another elderly woman, who said she was contacted by a Ma-laysian living in Sabah, also parted with a lot of money after this “Malaysian” claimed that his huge funds in Sabah were being held by the authorities.
He said he needed money to release these funds. The woman ended up selling her property in the hope that she would gain some money once the funds were released.
There are many such cases that are unreported, and many are too embarrassed to tell their family members and friends. Many, too, live in hopes that theirs would be an exceptional case, where their online lovers would really turn up and they would live happy ever after.
Sadly, these Shirley Valentine stories never end well. Just google or follow MCA Public Services and Complaints Department chief Datuk Seri Michael Chong, the fix-it guy for these problems. Most end up in tears.