Mama Wants Credit, Papa Wants Shares

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Police have finally busted one of the most common text message scams in the book; meanwhile, the country’s biggest corruption scandal could just be swept under the carpet.

In recent years, just about anyone with a mobile phone in Indonesia would have received a text message along the lines of: “Mama minta pulsa, tolong kirimkan pulsa Rp 50 ribu ke nomor baru 081212345678.” Which means: “Mama wants phone credit, please send Rp.50,000 to her new number, 081212345678.” Which means it’s a scam.

How do scammers make money after tricking people into transferring phone credit to their numbers? They re-sell it to vendors of electronic phone credit.

The scam has been around since at least 2010. It became so well known that in 2012 it spawned a comedy horror movie, Mama Minta Pulsa. Like most local films in this genre, it was utter garbage, although it could have been good if it had dropped the comedy and instead focused on people dying for forwarding or viewing text spam.

Veering off-topic here, the movie starred big-chested actress Shinta Bachir, who was named during the recent trial of Robby Abbas. Robby, you may recall from news earlier this year, ran a high-class prostitution ring that supplied models and actresses to big-spending government officials, legislators and tycoons.

When Robby was sentenced on October 26 to one year and four months in jail, the presiding judge mentioned that Shinta Bachir was on the pimp’s books for a tariff of Rp.40 million. Shinta, who did not have to attend the trial, separately denied being a prostitute but she has not attempted to sue the judge for slander.

Anyway, back to the short message service (SMS) scam. Police on November 3 arrested the alleged ringleader of a ‘mama minta pulsa’ syndicate, Effendi (36), while he was driving with his wife and son in his home province of South Sulawesi.

Effendi, who uses the aliases Lekeng and Kenz, was sent to Jakarta because most complaints about SMS scams had been filed in the national capital. Police seized the suspect’s 600-square-metre house, two cars and two motorbikes, claiming they were bought with his ill-gotten gain. Effendi insisted the house was a gift from his wife’s parents.

Some local media reports painted a picture of Effendi as the mastermind of every single SMS scam, living a life of great riches and luxury. His minor affluence is peanuts compared to the vast wealth of politicians who embezzle and extort money, but more on them later.

Effendi said he had learned the scam from friends. He had been sending out fraudulent text messages for two years and had five employees, who managed a syndicate of scammers based in the West Java capital of Bandung and the outlying town of Cianjur. In a single day, they could send about 6,000 messages, usually using spamming software called SMScaster. They had a success rate of about 1 percent.

The gang provided Effendi with daily earnings of Rp.3 million to Rp.7 million, of which he kept 75 percent and the rest was paid to his employees.

Effendi said the gang had stopped sending “mama minta pulsa” because the public had wised up to the scam. Instead, the crooks were sending messages that claimed the recipient had won a bank’s lucky draw or various prizes. Victims would be given instructions to redeem their prizes by transferring cash via ATM to false bank accounts operated by the gang. Other messages claimed “Grandma wants phone credit, she’s in hospital” or “Mum needs phone credit, she’s at the police station and using a borrowed phone.”

Police arrested more than a dozen SMS scammers in Bandung and Cianjur, and on November 21 raided Jakarta’s notorious Pasar Pramuka district, arresting 23 people who made fake identity cards and birth certificates that were used for opening bank accounts, which were sold to the syndicate. A fake ID cost Rp.500,000, while a bank account in a fake name cost Rp.2.5 million.

Setya Novanto

House of Representatives speaker Setya Novanto had requested shares from gold and copper mining giant Freeport Indonesia, ostensibly on behalf of President Joko Widodo and Vice President Jusuf Kalla.

The latest arrests prompted the creation of an internet meme ‘Mama Minta Pulsa, Papa Minta Saham’, the latter part (which means ‘Papa wants shares’) in reference to the mid-November revelation that House of Representatives Speaker Setya Novanto, had requested shares from gold and copper mining giant Freeport Indonesia, ostensibly on behalf of President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo and Vice President Jusuf Kalla.

Setya, who has long been dogged by corruption scandals and is a Golkar Party executive, had on June 8 met at Jakarta’s Ritz-Cartlon Hotel with Freeport Indonesia’s CEO Maroef Sjamsuddin and fuel importing kingpin Muhammad Riza Chalid, a man who wields enormous influence among politicians. Maroef secretly recorded the meeting, which discussed Freeport’s desire to increase its contract to operate the massive Grasberg mine in Papua province from 2021 to 2041.

Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Sudirman Said on November 16 filed a complaint against Setya to the House’s ethics council for misusing the names of the president and the vice president. Then a transcript of the meeting was released.

Setya responded by claiming he had been joking when asking for the shares. “It was just a joke, light conversation, but Maroef treated it seriously. Like when we spoke about private jets and being happy. We were just kidding around,” he told Tempo magazine.

While a few people demanded Setya resign or be fired or arrested, numerous legislators and top politicians spoke out in his defence. There are now growing calls for Jokowi to fire Sudirman because he dared to expose details of the meeting. Sudirman was quickly reported to the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) for allegedly inflicting losses on the state by allowing Freeport to export copper concentrate without first developing a smelter. Setya’s lawyer threatened to report the minister to police for damaging Setya’s “good” name.

Sudirman may well become a victim of the Freeport shakedown scandal, while Setya may be too influential to be brought down. “If does go down,” says a senior newspaper editor, “he knows so many secrets of the top politicians that he could bring a lot of them down with him. So I don’t think he will be fired.”

Rather than demand immediate action, Jokowi was happy to joke about the ‘Papa Minta Saham’ meme with reporters. Possibly he is just playing his cards close to his chest, biding his time to expose all the rotten elements of the legislature with hard evidence. Or perhaps he is powerless, fearful he may be impeached if he tries to eradicate corruption.

KPK chief Taufiequrachman Ruki, way back in 2005 when he first headed the commission, admitted that law enforcement in Indonesia can never be totally isolated from political interference. “We go after the big fish, but if the fish is too big, my commission could sink,” he said presciently.

The public will have to be satisfied with arrests of small-time crooks, such as SMS scammers, while the biggest criminals continue to laugh on golf courses and in their private jets. And our mobile phone operators will continue to send stupid spam. Get used to disappointment.

Police have finally busted one of the most common text message scams in the book; meanwhile, the country’s biggest corruption scandal could just be swept under the carpet.

In recent years, just about anyone with a mobile phone in Indonesia would have received a text message along the lines of: “Mama minta pulsa, tolong kirimkan pulsa Rp 50 ribu ke nomor baru 081212345678.” Which means: “Mama wants phone credit, please send Rp.50,000 to her new number, 081212345678.” Which means it’s a scam.

How do scammers make money after tricking people into transferring phone credit to their numbers? They re-sell it to vendors of electronic phone credit.

The scam has been around since at least 2010. It became so well known that in 2012 it spawned a comedy horror movie, Mama Minta Pulsa. Like most local films in this genre, it was utter garbage, although it could have been good if it had dropped the comedy and instead focused on people dying for forwarding or viewing text spam.

Veering off-topic here, the movie starred big-chested actress Shinta Bachir, who was named during the recent trial of Robby Abbas. Robby, you may recall from news earlier this year, ran a high-class prostitution ring that supplied models and actresses to big-spending government officials, legislators and tycoons.

When Robby was sentenced on October 26 to one year and four months in jail, the presiding judge mentioned that Shinta Bachir was on the pimp’s books for a tariff of Rp.40 million. Shinta, who did not have to attend the trial, separately denied being a prostitute but she has not attempted to sue the judge for slander.

Anyway, back to the short message service (SMS) scam. Police on November 3 arrested the alleged ringleader of a ‘mama minta pulsa’ syndicate, Effendi (36), while he was driving with his wife and son in his home province of South Sulawesi.

Effendi, who uses the aliases Lekeng and Kenz, was sent to Jakarta because most complaints about SMS scams had been filed in the national capital. Police seized the suspect’s 600-square-metre house, two cars and two motorbikes, claiming they were bought with his ill-gotten gain. Effendi insisted the house was a gift from his wife’s parents.

Some local media reports painted a picture of Effendi as the mastermind of every single SMS scam, living a life of great riches and luxury. His minor affluence is peanuts compared to the vast wealth of politicians who embezzle and extort money, but more on them later.

Effendi said he had learned the scam from friends. He had been sending out fraudulent text messages for two years and had five employees, who managed a syndicate of scammers based in the West Java capital of Bandung and the outlying town of Cianjur. In a single day, they could send about 6,000 messages, usually using spamming software called SMScaster. They had a success rate of about 1 percent.

The gang provided Effendi with daily earnings of Rp.3 million to Rp.7 million, of which he kept 75 percent and the rest was paid to his employees.

Effendi said the gang had stopped sending “mama minta pulsa” because the public had wised up to the scam. Instead, the crooks were sending messages that claimed the recipient had won a bank’s lucky draw or various prizes. Victims would be given instructions to redeem their prizes by transferring cash via ATM to false bank accounts operated by the gang. Other messages claimed “Grandma wants phone credit, she’s in hospital” or “Mum needs phone credit, she’s at the police station and using a borrowed phone.”

Police arrested more than a dozen SMS scammers in Bandung and Cianjur, and on November 21 raided Jakarta’s notorious Pasar Pramuka district, arresting 23 people who made fake identity cards and birth certificates that were used for opening bank accounts, which were sold to the syndicate. A fake ID cost Rp.500,000, while a bank account in a fake name cost Rp.2.5 million.

The latest arrests prompted the creation of an internet meme ‘Mama Minta Pulsa, Papa Minta Saham’, the latter part (which means ‘Papa wants shares’) in reference to the mid-November revelation that House of Representatives Speaker Setya Novanto, had requested shares from gold and copper mining giant Freeport Indonesia, ostensibly on behalf of President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo and Vice President Jusuf Kalla.

Setya, who has long been dogged by corruption scandals and is a Golkar Party executive, had on June 8 met at Jakarta’s Ritz-Cartlon Hotel with Freeport Indonesia’s CEO Maroef Sjamsuddin and fuel importing kingpin Muhammad Riza Chalid, a man who wields enormous influence among politicians. Maroef secretly recorded the meeting, which discussed Freeport’s desire to increase its contract to operate the massive Grasberg mine in Papua province from 2021 to 2041.

Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Sudirman Said on November 16 filed a complaint against Setya to the House’s ethics council for misusing the names of the president and the vice president. Then a transcript of the meeting was released.

Setya responded by claiming he had been joking when asking for the shares. “It was just a joke, light conversation, but Maroef treated it seriously. Like when we spoke about private jets and being happy. We were just kidding around,” he told Tempo magazine.

While a few people demanded Setya resign or be fired or arrested, numerous legislators and top politicians spoke out in his defence. There are now growing calls for Jokowi to fire Sudirman because he dared to expose details of the meeting. Sudirman was quickly reported to the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) for allegedly inflicting losses on the state by allowing Freeport to export copper concentrate without first developing a smelter. Setya’s lawyer threatened to report the minister to police for damaging Setya’s “good” name.

Sudirman may well become a victim of the Freeport shakedown scandal, while Setya may be too influential to be brought down. “If does go down,” says a senior newspaper editor, “he knows so many secrets of the top politicians that he could bring a lot of them down with him. So I don’t think he will be fired.”

Rather than demand immediate action, Jokowi was happy to joke about the ‘Papa Minta Saham’ meme with reporters. Possibly he is just playing his cards close to his chest, biding his time to expose all the rotten elements of the legislature with hard evidence. Or perhaps he is powerless, fearful he may be impeached if he tries to eradicate corruption.

KPK chief Taufiequrachman Ruki, way back in 2005 when he first headed the commission, admitted that law enforcement in Indonesia can never be totally isolated from political interference. “We go after the big fish, but if the fish is too big, my commission could sink,” he said presciently.

The public will have to be satisfied with arrests of small-time crooks, such as SMS scammers, while the biggest criminals continue to laugh on golf courses and in their private jets. And our mobile phone operators will continue to send stupid spam. Get used to disappointment.

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Kenneth Yeung is a Jakarta-based editor.


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