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African conmen in Malaysia target lonely US women

Hundreds of American women are being conned by Internet scammers based in Malaysia, with some losing over $250,000 as the country becomes an epicenter for online crime perpetrated by Africans, US officials say.
The mostly Nigerian conmen, who enter Malaysia on student visas, take advantage of the country’s good Internet infrastructure to prey on lonely, middle-aged women, wooing them on dating websites before swindling their savings, they said.
The scams are more sophisticated than most Nigeria-based operations helped by Malaysia’s advanced banking system, which allows perpetrators to quickly set up accounts and receive international transfers.
US officials say Malaysian police lack the resources and expertise to tackle the problem and have yet to launch a single prosecution of a case involving a US victim.
Malaysian police were reported by local media last December as saying that losses from scams had totaled to more than $11 million. A total of 476 Africans had been apprehended for suspected involvement, the report said.
Tim Scherer, consul general at the US embassy in Kuala Lumpur, told Reuters that complaints about such scams now made up more than 80 percent of inquiries to duty officers at the mission, with a dozen new cases reported every week.
Citizens of Australia, Canada and Europe had also been targeted, he said.
“These are not rich widows who are being preyed on, these are middle-class Americans who don’t have this kind of money to spare,” he said. “It can really transform their lives in a very terrible way.”
Scherer said the total in losses could be higher but many victims are too embarrassed to come forward or do not know who to contact. He said the scammers were highly sophisticated, often grooming victims for months and using convincing techniques such as forging letters purportedly from the US ambassador in Malaysia.
Large teams of scammers typically trawl dating or Christian websites and contact middle-aged women, the U.S. officials said. They pretend to be a Western man who then gets into legal or business difficulties in Muslim-majority Malaysia.
The conmen have exploited Malaysia’s drive to become a global education hub, securing student visas to attend college, the US officials said.
Malaysia has pursued a policy of attracting international students for more than a decade, allowing dozens of foreign colleges to set up Malaysian campuses.
Source: Reuters

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