Critical thinking is imperative when approached by people peddling get-rich-quick schemes.
As national elections loom ever closer, promises of greater prosperity are abounding, but don’t be fooled into thinking that anyone can magically create prosperity. Those duped by lies will find themselves worse off in the future.
Rather than risk incurring the wrath of people sensitive to reports on political swindling, this column will follow its oft-trodden path of less significant scams.
One of the most common forms of scamming in Indonesia involves people pretending they have mystical powers to multiply money. Perhaps the greatest exponent of this swindle is Taat Pribadi, a conman from East Java, who gave himself the regal title of Dimas Kanjeng and pretended to create money out of thin air. He’s now serving a 20-year sentence for murder and fraud.
His fate has not discouraged people from seeking to emulate him. Two men from Biak Island in Papua province, Sahril (33) alias Alif and his brother, Salimin (26) alias Bola, felt the urge to go on a shopping spree for new clothes. But Biak doesn’t have many malls selling high-end fashions. Also, the pair didn’t have much money.
Inspired by YouTube videos of Dimas Kanjeng in action, the brothers decided that conning gullible people was the swiftest solution to their money woes. In February, they journeyed to Kendari city, the capital of Southeast Sulawesi province. There, Bola set about finding people keen to multiply their money. He told them Alif had the power to make money grow and that he lived in a luxury house filled with tons of gold bars.
Four people were convinced and gave the brothers a total of Rp10 million. Yes, that’s equivalent to only US$700, whereas much vaster sums are being embezzled elsewhere, but it’s about five months’ wages in Southeast Sulawesi.
Alif promised he could transform the Rp10 million into Rp3 billion. The money was placed inside a cardboard box, which was then covered with a yellow cloth and some prayer beads. Alif lit some incense and performed a ritual. The brothers wanted to take the box to a “special place” for the magic to work, but the investors insisted it be kept inside a room in one of their houses.
Alone in the room, the brothers covered the top of the box with money, to make it appear as if it was overflowing with cash. They showed this illusion to their victims, who were not allowed to touch or take the money. The brothers later concealed the cash in their bags and said the room must remain locked for two days and two nights for the money to grow to Rp3 billion.
Flush with the money, the brothers went shopping for some shirts. They also treated their victims to a meal, drinks and a karaoke session. The victims were unaware it was their money being used for the entertainment.
Before leaving, the brothers advised their victims to donate some alms and sacrifice a cow to ensure the magic would work. The men then skipped town in late February and returned to Biak. The victims later unlocked the room, opened the box and found no money. One of them reported to police.
Police responded by contacting the brothers and posed as people eager to have their money multiplied. Not suspecting a trap, the two men returned to Kendari and were arrested while in a rented room on the night of March 19. They face up to five years behind bars if brought to trial and convicted.
Kendari Police Chief Redy Hartono urged the public not to trust people who claim to have the power to double money. He also said YouTube should be used for viewing positive content, rather than for learning evil.
Blind Man’s Bluff
Just across the sea, in the South Sulawesi town of Maros, a blind dukun (shaman) claimed he could heal various diseases. He also allegedly claimed to be able to obtain vast sums of money from supernatural beings.
The dukun, named Iyan (42) alias Ome, was arrested by police on March 14 on suspicion of fraud.
Jumaris, who runs an automotive repairs business, had in 2018 brought his wife, Herawati, to the dukun, hoping he could cure her of an undisclosed ailment. Herawati eventually recovered, after a series of spells were performed. This convinced Jumaris that Ome possessed magical powers.
He said Ome claimed to be in contact with supernatural beings that dwelt in the Central Sulawesi capital of Palu and had Rp500 billion to share. Ome reportedly requested a fee of Rp2.3 million in return for Rp1.3 billion from the genies. Sensing a rare opportunity for great wealth, Jumaris sold his house for Rp230 million and handed over the money to the blind dukun. The healer declined to issue a receipt, saying this would anger the magic spirits.
One year later, the genies had still not handed over the Rp23 billion. Suspecting he might have been tricked, Jumaris went to police.
Maros Police chief Yohanes Richard said that although there was no receipt, they were building a case against Ome. He appealed to any other victims not be embarrassed or afraid, but to come forward.
Ome denied any wrongdoing. He said he had been healing people since 1995. He said any money he ever received was only for legitimate medical expenses, such as purchasing sacrificial goats. Local media reported he used a unique method to diagnose his patients. He would throw cigarettes and matches at a patient’s body, and if they stuck, it meant there was an illness.
Such quackery might seem laughable, but people are constantly being parted from their money with promises of health, riches and employment. In Central Java, police on March 15 arrested a husband and wife, who had promised people they could double their money and get them lucrative jobs.
Bayu Uun (50) and his wife, Febri Maya Ariani (46), claimed they could provide high-paying jobs with one of the country’s leading clove cigarette manufacturers, in addition to multiplying money. One of their most recent victims was Johan Adi Pranata (22), who handed over Rp15 million on March 8. The money was wrapped in a black plastic bag, which was then deftly switched for a bag containing a folded Muslim prayer cap. Johan was instructed to wait four days before opening the bag. He was also promised he would be hired by the cigarette company. Realizing he had been swindled, he reported to police, who managed to intercept the couple on a highway.
While swindling and gullibility may be widespread, the Indonesian electorate will surely not fall prey to deception.