Lifestyle

Okay, Malaysians, Enough Is Enough. Here's How You Spot Scammer Bullsh*t.

Lately I’ve been seeing a bigger spike of scammer horror stories on the internet; innocent people getting cheated out of hundreds of thousands of ringgit over broken promises, blocked numbers and disappearing ex-friends. It’s a tale as old as time that grows ever more rampant thanks to the prevalence of social media, which makes marketing these scams cheaper than ever.

Yesterday, much to our surprise (and it made for a good laugh in the office too) another one of these scammy scammers appeared in our line of vision. They call themselves LiveTea Ventures, and they’re promising some too-good-to-be-true returns in investment.

Branding themselves on Facebook as a food and drinks company, you can just see these ‘masterminds’ twiddling their thumbs, using TeaLive’s brand recognition and trying to imply that they’re affiliated with Bryan Loo’s brand.

Too good to be true (Image Credit: DiscoverKL)

It does seem obvious to many of us that this is a thinly veiled scam, and I was glad to see that before the page was taken down, many good-hearted netizens pointed out in plain words that this is a scam to those who might not have figured it out.

Muhammad Farid‘s post of this on Facebook

LiveTea Ventures was taken down as of this morning, but not before gaining 4K likes on Facebook, and from what we noticed, quite a few WhatsApp contacts from the ever-present ‘PM’ comments on their posts. The ‘recruitment’ page may be down, but they’re still going to be able to spin a story to the people on their WhatsApp hooks, scamming a few more bucks from poor gullible hands.

In fact, if the review is real, a poor soul has already been conned out of money. Though the true number (and final tally) of people taken in by this investment scam will probably remain a mystery.

Image Credit: DiscoverKL

Earlier this year, a Datuk from a Forex scam was nabbed for “an investment scheme scam where at least 1,000 victims suffered RM55 million in losses”.

And this isn’t even the biggest investment scam news of the month. The JJPTR Investment scheme raked up total investments estimated at around RM1.7 billion, with the founder just being arrested yesterday.

And even as the same founder made statements about how he was going to return their investments in five years, there are Malaysians who still support him and would invest in any of his future ventures too.

It Seems Like Investment Scams Are Today’s New MLM

Image Credit: Free Malaysia Today

If 2016 was all about MLMs, I guess 2017 is the year for investment scams. These crooks are ruining it for the rest of us Malaysians looking for legitimate investment opportunities.

The Financial Industry Regulation Authorities released this simple investment guideline that helps you tell if something is a potential investment scam, and it’s a simple and illuminating read.

Groups like Ponzi Scheme Alert are doing god’s work of exposing the different names that these scams go under, and in fact I’m using them as a screenshot resource for this article. But the bigger question in this: how do we find out about these scammers before they’ve blown up as the Next Big Scam of the year?

What I’m aiming to achieve here is prevention before cure. If you’re already equipped with knowledge on how these scammers usually speak, you’ll be better able to spot a dodgy business transaction before you become patient zero in all of those scammer-exposé stories that people share.

THE BIGGEST #PROTIP: IF IT LOOKS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, IT PROBABLY IS. 

Guidelines On How They Talk

One of the biggest markers of scamming internationally is, for some odd reason, poor grammar. However, considering our… current language climate here in Malaysia, that might not be the best method to single them out.

Many legitimate businesspeople utilise broken English, because the beautiful thing about business is that as long as you have good instincts and an entrepreneurial zeal, you can make it. It might in fact be easier to relate to the average Malaysian with Manglish rather than the ‘pretentious’ English I’m using right now to write this article.

But more obvious signs that I’ve seen over my travels and based on this article are:

  1. When you ask them questions, they’ll either give vague answers, sidestep the issue, or completely change their answer from before.
  2. When questioned about their ‘business’, they start getting angry in their replies, becoming exasperated, sarcastic or even aggressive at the slightest of challenges to their statements.
  3. Research shows that liars tend to focus more on “sense” words that invoke feelings, more than you normally would. Words like “see”, “hear” and “feel”, or translations of them in your native language can be a great marker.
  4. They’re very long-winded and don’t get to the point. Scammers usually try to add extra detail in an effort to convince you, and their long replies can also be distractions to avoid answering your questions.
  5. URGENCY. These scammers usually give you very short deadlines to wire any money, either through threats or to pressure you into “not missing an opportunity” (also pointed out in the investment scam guideline). This is so that you forego any usual precautions like Googling or asking around. Better to miss a business opportunity than to lose all of your remaining money to a scam because you weren’t careful enough.

And to drive this point home, I’ve dug up some exposed screenshots of conversations with scammers.

Case Study 1: Aggression

Screenshots taken from this post on Ponzi Scam Alert in Malaysia of a group chat.

Signs:

  1. Even a basic question like “How much am I getting today?” is met with threats of removal.
  2. Very aggressive and claims that they “don’t even need just your RM3K”, and “If you want cash fast, why don’t you sell drugs?”
  3. They’re removing people who are questioning how they do things, so that they can keep the ‘believers’ tangled in their scam web.
  4. Invoking the term “god’s will” to remove responsibility from themselves.

Case Study 2: The Roundabout

This chat, in Malay, illustrates an Monspace agent attempting to approach someone about an ‘investment opportunity’ over Facebook. Here, the agent doesn’t get aggressive, but keeps giving replying with different ‘facts’ that don’t directly answer questions.

The agent keeps attempting to lure the potential ‘victim’ into WhatsApp, perhaps to pull him into a group where all of his fellow agents can tag-team him to confuse him further.

Some scammers tend to prefer face-to-face conversations, so that they can pull out ‘documents’ and ‘data’, and because with face-to-face conversations, victims are put in a more ‘urgent’ situation.

The ‘agent’ also gets some facts wrong, like how the company Monspace isn’t registered under Suruhanjaya Syarikat Malaysia (SSM) even though they are supposedly a Pte Ltd company.

Scam Or Legit Business Deal? How Can You Tell? 

1) Don’t get fooled by official looking images. Even I could whip up a pretty legitimate-looking flyer right now if I wanted to, just using Microsoft PowerPoint and some logos.

2) If it looks like it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Investments cannot guarantee any returns.

3) Ask questions. Ask lots and lots of questions. In fact, bring in other people to look over your correspondences and get them to help think of questions too.

4) A lesson from many MLM horror-stories: if they keep trying to isolate you from telling friends and family about the deal at least until you’ve paid the money, they’re trying to make sure that you don’t get a second opinion. Run far away. Even if isn’t MLM, it’s probably not a kosher business deal.

5) Google them. If you’re going to be giving them money anyway, you might as well get to know them. And do dig a little deeper on this because some of these scammers have wisened up to this and taken over the first couple of searches with positive websites or articles. At least go a few pages into a Google search of their name before giving any money.

6) Check the name of the company/founder with scammer lists available online, like this Securities Commision Malaysia, or this Illegal Investment Company Under BNM list, among others. Just because they’re not there doesn’t mean they’re safe, but it’s good to know.

Don’t be the victims of the next Livetea Ventures and JJPTR. No matter in what form these scams come to you, when it comes to money, make sure you research the company and be extra careful.