KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia—In an early Friday swoop, Malaysian authorities arrested dozens of foreigners for alleged cybercrimes, the third operation of the year aimed at curbing online fraud and scams.
The operation, code named Tiong, underscores the government’s current drive to combat a spike in Internet-related crime in the emerging Southeast Asian economy, where losses from lapses in cyber security and online fraud totaled more than 1 billion ringgit ($309 million) in the first six months of this year, according to police.
On Friday, police and immigration officials arrested 36 men and 11 women in a series of raids around the capital and confiscated 11 laptop computers and 10 mobile phones. Most of those arrested are Nigerian nationals, police said.
Around half of those arrested have been turned over to immigration officials for investigation. The rest will remain in police custody for further investigation. Police did not say how long they would hold those arrested, nor did they provide their names.
About a dozen of them denied wrongdoing when interviewed by the Wall Street Journal. They declined to be named. It wasn’t clear if they have received legal representation.
Malaysia’s exposure to cybercrime has increased alongside rising online connectivity. Nearly two-thirds of Malaysia’s 28 million people have access to the Internet, and tens of thousands of mainly urbanites go online to buy groceries and conduct financial transactions. Much of the country’s youth own smartphones, which they use to access social media websites that host user’s personal information – potentially exposing them to cyber scams.
Despite efforts to educate the public about the threat, Mohd Rodwan Mohd Yusof, the deputy director for intelligence operations at the Malaysian police’s commercial crimes division, said people are “still falling for these scams.”
In a 2013 Security Threat Report by cyber security company Sophos, Malaysia ranked as the fifth most exposed country in the world to cyber security threats, behind Indonesia, China, Thailand and the Philippines.
Some of those threats include inheritance scams, or scams where victims receive an e-mail from a sender introducing himself as a wealthy relative or member of a royal family. The perpetrator then requests help to move large sums of money from his homeland into the victim’s account with the promise of rich rewards for the assistance.
A request for an advance payment to complete the transaction usually follows. Police say several variations of the scams have surfaced, including “parcel scams,” which require victims to pay a certain amount of money for an unexpected item of value that is being held up at customs.
In the first ten months of the year losses from such scams have more than doubled from a year earlier, to nearly 79 million ringgit, according to police.
Most cybercrimes center on fraud, followed by security breaches, spam and streaming of malicious codes, termed virus attacks. According to police data, 11,543 cybercrime cases were reported in 2012, down from 15,218 reported cases in 2011.