SCAMS IN THE CITY

Indonesia Expat - - Featured - BY KEN­NETH YEUNG

Po­lice Bust Bo­gus Bruneian Busi­ness­man Scam

Be­ware of help­ing friendly strangers want­ing to use your bank ac­count for business or char­i­ta­ble pur­poses, es­pe­cially if they try to en­tice you with a com­mis­sion.

Jakarta Po­lice in Au­gust busted a gang that had con­ducted an elab­o­rate scam prey­ing on busi­ness­men in or­der to ob­tain their ATM cards and per­sonal iden­ti­fi­ca­tion num­bers (PINs).

The gang usu­ally tar­geted busi­ness­men stay­ing at mid-priced ho­tels in Jakarta. One mem­ber, pos­ing as a busi­ness­man, would ap­proach a tar­get in the lobby and strike up a con­ver­sa­tion, ask­ing what sort of business he was in­volved in. No mat­ter what the an­swer, the con­man claimed to be work­ing in a re­lated in­dus­try. For ex­am­ple, if a tar­get worked for a heavy equip­ment man­u­fac­turer, the scam­mer would claim to work for a Kal­i­man­tan-based coal min­ing com­pany that co­in­ci­den­tally needed to pur­chase ten ex­ca­va­tors.

While the two were chat­ting, a sec­ond mem­ber of the gang would ap­proach them, pos­ing as a newly ar­rived busi­ness­man from Brunei on his first trip to Jakarta. Im­mac­u­lately at­tired and us­ing a heavy Malay ac­cent, he claimed to be in the tele­phone business, say­ing he had hun­dreds of new mo­bile phones to sell. He of­fered a 15 per­cent com­mis­sion to his two ‘new friends’ if they would help him to sell the phones. Al­ter­na­tively, he some­times pre­tended to need help to make monthly trans­fers of hun­dreds of mil­lions of ru­piah for the con­struc­tion of mosques in In­done­sia.

The ‘Bruneian’ man would not have a lo­cal bank ac­count, so he would ask to use the tar­get’s bank ac­count to trans­fer funds. The three would then drive in a rented car to an ATM, where the two crooks would pre­tend to make a trans­fer. Next, they asked the tar­get to check his ac­count bal­ance. When he typed in his PIN, the crooks watched sur­rep­ti­tiously and mem­o­rised the num­ber. Back in the car, the ‘Bruneian’ man would ask to see if In­done­sian ATM cards were sim­i­lar to those from Brunei. When the vic­tim handed over his card for in­spec­tion, the other man would en­gage him in con­ver­sa­tion, while his co­hort then pock­eted the card and handed back an ex­pired or ‘dor­mant’ one from the same bank.

The vic­tim would be dropped off back at his ho­tel, while the two crooks split up, with one promis­ing to meet the vic­tim later to talk more about do­ing business. They would then visit an ATM and at­tempt to with­draw as much money as pos­si­ble be­fore the vic­tim re­al­ized he had been conned and re­ported his card stolen.

Other mem­bers of the gang spe­cial­ized in sourc­ing ex­pired ATM cards and ac­quir­ing bank ac­counts in which the il­licit funds were trans­ferred.

On Au­gust 12, po­lice caught four mem­bers of the gang in Ke­lapa Gad­ing, North Jakarta. Po­lice said two of them had to be shot in the leg be­cause they re­sisted ar­rest. Two oth­ers, a driver and a sup­plier of ATM cards, re­main at large. Po­lice seized 47 ATM cards and seven bank ac­count books as ev­i­dence. One of the gang’s most re­cent vic­tims was Iskan­dar, who had been stay­ing at a ho­tel in Ke­lapa Gad­ing. He had been of­fered a free mo­bile phone in re­turn for al­low­ing his ac­count to be used for a trans­ac­tion, but the crooks had ob­served his PIN and then sub­sti­tuted his card for a de­funct one. He later dis­cov­ered that over Rp.352 mil­lion (US$26,388) had been drained from his bank ac­count.

In an­other re­cent crime, the ‘Bruneian’ busi­ness­man asked to use the vic­tim’s lo­cal bank ac­count to trans­fer a do­na­tion of Rp.900 mil­lion (US$ 67,470) to an In­done­sian mosque. The crooks switched

ATM cards and with­drew Rp.170 mil­lion (US$12,744) from the vic­tim’s ac­count.

Po­lice said the gang, whose mem­bers were all orig­i­nally from South Su­lawesi prov­ince, had been op­er­at­ing since 2014, reap­ing more than Rp. 2 bil­lion (US$150,000). In 2017 alone, they had swin­dled about 30 vic­tims.

At a press con­fer­ence held by West Jakarta Po­lice, one limp­ing mem­ber of the gang said the money was splurged on en­ter­tain­ment. He said he learned how to speak with a Malay ac­cent by watch­ing episodes of Upin & Ipin, a Malaysian car­toon se­ries about two twin boys. He de­nied hav­ing hyp­no­tized any of his vic­tims, say­ing he merely lured them in by promis­ing 15 per­cent of any trans­ac­tions. Scam vic­tims in In­done­sia of­ten claim to have been hyp­no­tized, as if they were pow­er­less to re­sist be­ing conned, rather than ad­mit they were duped by their own greed and gulli­bil­ity.

In a sim­i­lar case, po­lice in the South Su­lawesi cap­i­tal of Makas­sar on Au­gust 22 ar­rested a man and woman for pos­ing as rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Brunei and Saudi Ara­bia look­ing for a lo­cal part­ner to as­sist with trans­fers of funds for con­struc­tion of mosques.

Phony In­do­maret Boss

In an­other case of de­cep­tion, a woman posed as a man­ager of con­ve­nience store chain In­do­maret to col­lect money from cashiers in or­der to sup­port her drug habit.

Anasty Mer­lin Si­a­haan, 32, started the scam in March 2017 and tar­geted at least five stores in Jakarta and out­ly­ing cities. Po­lice said her crimes net­ted Rp.70.6 mil­lion (US$ 5,290), which she used to pay for her apart­ment rental, her daily needs and shabu-shabu

(crys­tal metham­phetamine).

Mer­lin, as she is known, would visit stores and in­tro­duce her­self as an of­fi­cial from In­do­maret’s head of­fice. She would first be­rate the cashiers, say­ing she had re­ceived nu­mer­ous cus­tomer com­plaints about the store. Once the cashier was up­set and ner­vous, Mer­lin would then in­quire about the day’s tak­ings and re­quest the money. These amounts ranged from Rp.4.6 mil­lion to Rp. 30 mil­lion.

Her most re­cent ca­per was at an In­do­maret on Jalan Muchtar Raya in De­pok, West Java, where she col­lected Rp. 24.8 mil­lion, prompt­ing In­do­maret to file a po­lice com­plaint.

Po­lice on Au­gust 29 ar­rested Mer­lin and her unem­ployed hus­band at City Gar­den Apart­ments in Cengkareng, West Jakarta. Both tested pos­i­tive to drugs, although po­lice said the hus­band was not con­nected to the fraud. Po­lice seized Rp.500,000 in cash, a home­made crys­tal meth bong and a mo­bile phone as ev­i­dence.

Two days later, po­lice held a press con­fer­ence to dis­play Mer­lin to re­porters, but she fainted just as the event was be­gin­ning and was taken away for treat­ment. Po­lice said she had con­fessed to her crimes and could face four years in jail if con­victed of fraud.

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