Scams in the City: Car Trouble

Buying a car online or ‘winning’ one as a prize can be risky business in Indonesia, but even more risky is renting a hire car to a purported celebrity.

A failed singer exploited his minimal celebrity status by renting dozens of cars and then pawning them for quick cash.

The perpetrator was Jajang R. Haris (28), a would-be celebrity who was a contestant on Kontes Dangdut Indonesia (KDI), a singing competition show that first aired on the TPI network and is now broadcast by MNCTV.

Jajang appeared on the first season of KDI in 2004 and claimed to have reached the finals. But his singing career did not take off. Instead, he ended up working as an extra on soap operas and in films – a job that does not pay well for local actors in Indonesia.

Six months ago, Jajang decided to supplement his income by scamming rental car dealers in Depok and Bogor, south of Jakarta. He and his two accomplices, Didi Ahmadi and Rizki, would rent cars and then pawn them for as little as Rp.5 million each.

Jajang’s modus operandi was to approach rental owners and explain that he and his crew needed a couple of cars to travel to shooting sessions for movies and TV shows. He would show them YouTube clips of his performances, as well as some social media photos of his dubious celebrity status, as if this would make him more trustworthy. He was often able to rent cars without providing any form of collateral or guarantee.

The gang ended up stealing 43 rental cars, including two belonging to a member of the Army’s Strategic Reserve Command (Kostrad).

Depok Police began investigating Jajang after one rental owner, Farabi Anggriawan (30), on May 5 complained the singer had failed to return two cars which had been rented for Rp.3 million for 10 days.

Jajang and Didi were arrested last week, but Rizki was still on the run. Police said most of the stolen cars were Toyota Avanzas and Daihatsu Xenias. As of last week, police had managed to recover 22 of the vehicles.

On May 25, Jajang appeared at a police press conference. Wearing a balaclava and handcuffs, he tried to appear contrite, offering an apology to all victims and “anyone who feels aggrieved” by his actions. He said he pawned the cars to repay his debts and cover his living expenses. Police suspect the crooks may have been supporting a drug habit and will test them for narcotics.

One of the rental owners was Sergeant Major Ponidi Wardoyo (51) of Kostrad. He said Jajang had rented an Avanza and a Toyota Etios from him in April. The rental money was initially paid for a few days, but the cars were not returned by the due date.

Ponidi visited the address Jajang had given him – a house in Leuwiliang, a small town near Bogor – but no one was there.

The military man was grateful that police subsequently recovered his cars. He said he would quit the car rental business – and sell his five cars – because it was too stressful.

Police said victims are welcome to reclaim their cars, provided can show ownership and registration documents, as well as proof of identity.

Jajang and Didi could face up to five years in jail for theft and fraud.

‘Just For Fun’

Be wary of online market places offering cars for prices that seem too good to be true. They may be stolen or non-existent.

Regha Aprilian (25), a resident of the East Java capital of Surabaya, created a fake profile for himself on a vehicle sales website. He then copied and pasted an existing advert for a car, but replaced the contact number with his own number.

Posing as the original vendor’s brother, he offered the car for Rp.65 million and soon had a buyer. The man paid a deposit of Rp.2 million in cash and Rp.9 million via bank transfer, with the remainder to be paid in instalments on delivery.

The vehicle in question had originally – and legitimately – been offered for sale by Etopia Bintarti, a hospital worker. Upon discovering the advert had been hijacked, Etopia asked to meet Regha at the hospital to discuss business. When the conman arrived, he was arrested by police.

Regha said he often shopped online and thought it would be fun to see if he could swindle people. “It was originally just for fun really. It was only one time,” he claimed.

Free Car, Not

Another common swindle involves placing fake prize coupons for cars and motorcycles inside branded food and beverage products, such as instant noodles, processed snacks, sugar-filled energy drinks and instant coffee.

The authentic-looking coupons have the logo of a big-name company, such as Bimoli, Indofood, Wings Food, Tora Bika and many others. The coupons declare the recipient has won a free vehicle, which can be claimed by calling a telephone number. Upon calling the number, the “winner” will be asked to pay for vehicle registration costs, ownership papers, a processing fee and taxes, which can amount from Rp.5 million to Rp.20 million.

Should you ever find such a prize coupon and you think it may be genuine, then call the company on its official customer service number and find out whether there really is a giveaway of cars or motorbikes. You could also consider passing the coupon on to police.

Last November, police in Semarang, Central Java, busted a syndicate that had been producing fake prize coupons that had been inserted into packaged foods. In addition to fake company logos, the coupons also featured a police stamp, a notary’s stamp and a government stamp.

Police said the group, which had seven members, earned about Rp.300 million to Rp.600 million per month from people who thought they had won “free” vehicles.

 

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Kenneth Yeung is a Jakarta-based editor.