YOU have just arrived in London and had just downed your mandatory dose of nasi lemak and perhaps some roti canai at Malaysia Hall canteen and wanted to enjoy the crisp autumn air outside. So you climbed the few steps up and was taking in the scenery around Queensborough Terrace when someone approached you and requested you take his picture. He handed you his handphone and you obviously obliged.
And as you were getting this newfound friend in focus in his handphone camera, he suddenly shouted that you had stolen his phone and from out of nowhere, two burly men appeared. They claimed to be plainclothes police, flashed their IDs and asked for your passport and wallet.
You obviously obliged and handed over your passport and wallet — the wallet, they would claim was to see that as a tourist you had enough money or they wanted to check if the money was from drug dealing. Before you knew it, they went off. Before the nasi lemak had settled in in your tummy, you might have lost all the money you brought to spend in Primark or Bicester.
The scenario above apparently is the latest modus operandi of conmen and fake policemen targeting Malaysians in the vicinity of the office of Education Malaysia in Bayswater, London.
They operate in areas like Bayswater and Queensway where the Malaysia Hall Canteen is located and not far away, other Malaysian eateries such as Putera Puteri, Noodle Oodle and Malaysian-owned hotels such as Grand Plaza Bayswater, Holiday Villa and Berjaya Eden. They seemed to know when the exodus of Malaysian tourists was likely to be. Bountiful times for them would be around school holidays such as now.
A lot of conmen and fake policemen, who also claimed to be Tourist police, had been in operation in these areas relieving unsuspecting Malaysian tourists of their spending money using a variety of tactics. Many victims would testify to being approached by an Italian salesman flogging off leather jackets.
“Are you Malaysian?” seemed to be the introductory line. And most Malaysians, admit it, would proudly say, “Yes, aaah, so you know Malaysia!”
That would be enough for him to tell about his participation in a leather jacket exhibition and how, he bemoaned the fact that he had to lug them off back to Birmingham. He would rather sell them off cheaply, of course, to you.
So, once there is a glint of interest in the eyes of the unsuspecting Malaysian, he would proceed to show his precious products from the back of his car or van. Genuine leather, no doubt, and the brand names on the labels were ones you could proudly flash off to your friends back home.
You choose one and the smell was enough to tell you that it’s genuine leather. He would then say he’d get another one in a bag. That was when you should have alarm bells ringing. He would skilfully choose another jacket, that you would discover was not leather, long after he had taken your money and made his escape.
Many among you readers who had this misfortune, might even testify to being approached by a naïve looking person asking for directions. Once you say you are a tourist yourself, this person will signal someone else, who would suddenly appear, again as a Tourist police in plain clothes.
They would proceed to ask for passport and wallet. Same tactics. Please be informed that very rarely will you be approached by plainclothes policemen and there are NO tourist police in London.
It is during school holidays that the Malaysian High Commission in London experiences a peak in reports of lost and stolen passports related to scams like these.
Conmen wait outside hotels popular amongst Malaysian tourists. They watch eagle-eyed the offloading of expensive suitcases and luggage and would follow them to the lobby. They loiter around and even follow them to restaurants.
Even in the most packed restaurants, with expensive handbags tucked under the table, they will find their victims. Many have reported losing their handbags, passports and cash in crowded Malaysian restaurants.
Last week, while at Makan Café in Portobello Market, Hairani Mohamed was busy as the place was packed with Malaysian tourists hungry for Malaysian food. She wasn’t serving but her expert eyes were trained to look at those walking in and wandering around the tables.
“I have told my customers many times not to leave their handbags on their chairs. They tend to do that and then go off to order their food. The thieves are very fast,” she said, adding that some customers would lose as much as £2,000 (RM11,000) in cash as well as passports.
Sources from the Malaysian High Commission would agree that, yes, Malaysian visitors tend to bring cash — lots of cash, kept in one place by one person.
Thieves and conmen are everywhere in Oxford Street but their most favourite place now is in front or inside Primark.
“Most victims complained regretfully that they would leave their handbags in the shopping trolley. Then they will get distracted by a commotion or something and the next minute the bag is gone,” said a source used to listening to these complaints.
There are many tricks that Malaysian tourists have fallen prey to, but of course it is not something they would write about on social media. There’s the sale of cheap “branded” perfumes and the three cup game where most of the winners or the buyers are accomplices. Victims are lured to buy or participate in the game and later forced to part with their money.
Many have gone back with incidents like these that had ruined their well planned and long deserved holidays. It can be prevented. Do not carry too much cash or let one person carry all the spending money. Do not carry your passport and hand them over to people who claim to be policemen. The British police are uniformed and do not ask for passports OR ask to look at your wallet.
Do not engage in any conversation when people ask for directions. It is very likely that their accomplices are waiting for the cue to make the hit.
Now Malaysians seem to be good business for these conmen.