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.
Featured Image via Max Pixel