Imagine finding a cheque for US$350,000, or picking up a winning sweepstakes ticket on the street. Too good to be true? Yes, it’s an all-too-common scam in Indonesia.
Police have arrested a group of conmen who ran a pair of scams in which victims were duped into transferring funds in the expectation of receiving a reward or a new car. Similar scams are still being run by other swindlers.
The first scam involves fake cheques. Here’s how it works. A person exits their house, office or a shop and notices a brown envelope – the colour denoting banking correspondence – on the sidewalk. The envelope is marked IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS or SECRET DOCUMENTS in large, bold letters. It is not sealed, making it easy for a curious person to examine the contents.
Inside are three documents: a company’s Trade Business License issued by a municipal office of the Trade and Industry Ministry, a photocopy of an identity card, and – most amazingly – a cheque for up to Rp.4.7 billion (US$346,300). The envelope also contains the name and telephone number of the cheque’s recipient. There might also be a land ownership certificate.
The finder decides to do a good deed by calling the businessman to inform him of the discovery. The relieved “businessman” asks where the envelope was found. He profusely thanks the finder and asks him to please send the documents via a local post office “because God-willing the post office can be trusted as it is a state-owned company”. But first, he insists on rewarding the finder with a payment of Rp.100 million – an amount hard to refuse.
Unfortunately, the reward cannot be handed over in cash. That’s because the businessman is always in another city. He explains he was recently in the finder’s city because his company is planning to open an office there. Now, he is desperate to show his gratitude by providing the reward via a bank transfer. He frequently invokes the name of Allah and the greatness of God, indicating he is a trustworthy, religious man.
Not all Indonesians have bank accounts. In fact, fewer than 40 percent of adults have a savings account, so if the finder lacks an ATM card, the generous businessman will encourage him to use the account of a relative or friend. The finder provides the full name of the account holder and the account number. Then, he is told to visit the nearest ATM to check whether the transfer has gone through.
Of course, there was no transfer, so the scammer gives intricate instructions on how to ensure the money is sent. First, the victim is told to re-enter his card and choose “English” as the transaction language, before entering the personal identification number. The scammer hopes the English display will confuse the victim, who is told to select “transfer”, then key in an amount of Rp.2 million (US$150) or more, and to enter to businessman’s account number, and to choose “yes” to confirm the remittance. The result being, the target has just given his money to the scammer.
How could people fall for such a trick? Easily, if they are unfamiliar with English and preoccupied with euphoric thoughts of a Rp.100 million windfall.
At about 9:00 pm on October 21, police in the East Java city of Surabaya arrested a gang of eight men, who had conducted this scam for the last four years, moving across several provinces in Sumatra, Java and Kalimantan. Police said all members of the gang, who ranged in age from 30 to 47, hailed from Sidenreng Rappang regency in South Sulawesi province. The crooks were nabbed at a rented house in Mulyorejo district after a complaint from one of their most recent victims.
The leader of the gang is Abdul Malik (41), who produced the phony documents and cheques. He was assisted by Adi and Sapri, who disseminated dozens of the envelopes in whichever city the gang was operating. Another five members handled the phone calls, tricking victims into transferring their money. They usually chatted to targets for several minutes during the initial call to ascertain whether they had bank accounts and how rich they were.
Police estimate the gang earned about Rp.50 million (US$3,700) per month, reaping some Rp.2.4 billion (US$180,000) over four years. Evidence seized by police included three Epson printers, one Acer laptop, a paper cutter, packs of brown envelopes, and fake business licenses and ID cards. Close scrutiny of the documents revealed errors, such as an ID card clearly having a letter O being used for the numeral zero.
The headquarters of the gang’s phony companies were invariably listed as being in a different province from where the letters were dropped. For example, letters dropped in Depok, West Java, contained documents of a company based in East Kalimantan.
Cooking oil car scam
Police also found the gang in possession of fake sweepstakes tickets printed in the name of Bimoli brand cooking oil and offering Nissan X-Trail cars as prizes. To receive the SUV worth over Rp.350 million, finders of the “winning” tickets were directed to transfer funds to pay for the vehicle registration certificate (STNK) and ownership document (BPKB).
A Jakarta resident, Debby, said his younger sibling found a winning ticket in their garage, as well as a signed confirmation letter from police, and a list of terms and conditions. The terms required the winner to first make payments to the treasurer of the police’s Vehicle Document Registration Centre.
A spokesman for PT Salim Ivomas Pratama, the company behind Bimoli, says such tickets are fake, as the firm’s last giveaway of Nissan automobiles concluded in 2015. The company, which is part of the Indofood conglomerate, has urged the public not to be fooled. Despite such warnings, the scam continues. In early November, a phony website titled “List of Bimoli Winners 2017/2018” was still online. The site contains a list of winning numbers, as well as images and purported phone numbers of the company’s director and a senior policeman. There is also a brazen banner, warning of fraud as if to add to the site’s authenticity. The site even claims to be officiated by the Corruption Eradication Commission, Bank Indonesia, the Communications and Information Ministry and sponsored by leading banks and TV networks.
If you do find a huge cheque, give it to the nearest policeman or security guard. If you find a winning sweepstakes ticket, don’t call the numbers on the ticket, call the company instead. They’ll eventually answer your call and tell you it’s all just a scam.