Police probes hundreds of face mask scams

by ALIFAH ZAINUDDIN/ pic by BERNAMA

THE police have launched 572 investigations into the sale of counterfeit face masks online since the start of the Movement Control Order (MCO) in March, which has amounted to a loss of RM5.5 million.

Senior Minister (Security Cluster) Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob in his daily press conference yesterday said the scams were mainly conducted via Facebook and WhatsApp, with the highest number of reports recorded in Selangor with 122 cases, followed by Johor (68) and Pulau Pinang (68).

Authorities have so far arrested 181 individuals suspected of duping buyers into purchasing fake or substandard surgical masks on the Internet, while 53 others have been charged in court.

In other instances, victims were swindled into making a cash transfer for their purchase, but were later left with nothing. The scammers would have by then deactivated their social media accounts, making them unreachable.

“I urge the public to be careful when purchasing medical supplies online. Avoid buying from fake or dodgy websites and do some checks through product reviews.

“Do not be fooled by offers. Face masks are easily available at pharmacies these days, so it is best to avoid these platforms,” Ismail Sabri said.

Malaysia is not alone in the battle against scammers and in averting fakes from entering the country.

The coronavirus pandemic has given rise to fraudsters globally who try to take advantage of the dire need for face masks, medical equipment and related supplies like hand sanitisers and cleaning wipes.

Earlier in March, in an operation dubbed Pangea XIII, Interpol led enforcement agencies from 90 countries, including Malaysia, to scour for fake medical items.

Authorities seized over US$14 million (RM59.9 million) worth of counterfeit masks, hand sanitisers, and illegal antivirus and hazardous drugs.

The operation witnessed an 18% increase in unauthorised antivirus drug seizures, and over twice the amount of unauthorised hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine seizures, associated with the outbreak.

In a separate development, Ismail Sabri said it is illegal for employers to force their staff to go into quarantine after travelling interstate within the peninsula.

This comes amid claims that workers are told to self-isolate by taking unpaid leaves.

“The directive for quarantine only applies to those who are coming into the country from abroad and if the travel involves Sabah and Sarawak.

“Other than that, there is no need for isolation. This is against guidelines provided by the National Security Council,” he said.

The minister has also urged schools not to collect fees throughout the period where school is not in session.

“I hope schools will not take advantage of the situation to force parents to pay any fees while their children are out of school. For as long as schools are closed, there should not be any fee collection,” he said.