As Indonesia begins reopening its doors to foreign tourists, we can expect an increase in the number of foreign scammers.
Some have actually remained in Indonesia throughout the pandemic, taking advantage of relaxed visa rules to extend their stays and their nefarious activities.
Black Dollar Folly
One of the silliest scams that people continue to fall for in Indonesia is the black dollar swindle. For the zillionth time, here’s how it works: The scammer says he (it’s almost always a man, but they sometimes use female identities online) has a bag of US hundred-dollar bills, which were dyed black so they could be smuggled without detection. And now the scammer needs an expensive chemical to remove the dye. If you pay for the chemical, you’ll get hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. To prove it’s legitimate, the scammer washes a blackened greenback to remove the dye. There’s only one problem: the rest of the black dollars are all fakes. The scammer simply used a citrus juice and water solution to remove iodine from an actual hundred-dollar bill.
A 32-year-old Nigerian scammer in Jakarta, identified only by his initials as MA, wasn’t going to let COVID-19 social distancing regulations stop him from finding victims. He simply went to the holy grail of ignorance and misinformation: Facebook. Using an account in the name of his Indonesian wife, he joined a Facebook group where members share “business opportunities”. He privately messaged some members, offering to sell a package of black dollars amounting to $165,000.
One target took the bait and transferred Rp185 million ($13,000) to the bank account of MA’s wife, expecting to receive the $165,000. He received nothing. Not even the usual photocopies of dollars on dark construction paper. The victim went to South Jakarta Police, who in late October announced they had located and arrested MA.
After inspecting his laptop, police said MA had performed the same scam in Thailand and the Philippines, indicating he was likely part of an international syndicate. MA could be jailed for up to four years if convicted of fraud.
As usual, the most worrying thing about black dollar scams is that local media reports and even police often seem to suggest the “black dollars” are an actual foreign currency, merely coated in black to avoid detection by customs.
Money-Hungry “Hungarian” Hoaxers
Back in 2018, I wrote about a family of apparently Hungarian scammers, who operate in Java and Bali, pretending to have recently arrived tourists who have been pickpocketed (or victims of a bag snatch) and then beg, borrow and steal from sympathetic locals. There’s the man (who sometimes calls himself Robert), his wife (who has a Hungarian passport in the name Annamaria Eniko), and their two young daughters, aged about 7 and 12. Unbelievably, the villainous couple has not yet been arrested.
Earlier this year, the couple and their daughters resurfaced at some shops near West Jakarta’s Central Park mall, where they were posing as miserable, newly arrived Slovenian tourists. A local model and actress named Tracy Trinita were in the area, getting her computer repaired when the man approached and asked if she spoke English. He wanted to know how long it would take his family to walk to Pondok Indah, South Jakarta. He said his wife’s handbag had been stolen earlier that day at Pantai Indah Kapuk in North Jakarta, so they had no means of getting back to their hotel.
Upon hearing the sob story, Tracy bought some pizza for the family, as the two daughters looked distraught and famished. She also ordered an online taxi to take the family to the Swiss Belhotel Pondok Indah. At that point, the man said they would be going to the airport tomorrow and asked whether they could walk there. Then the wife asked whether Rp6,000 would be enough to buy food at the airport, as it was the only money they had.
Waiting for the taxi to arrive, Tracy asked the family why they had come to Indonesia in the middle of the pandemic. The wife claimed they had visited Australia for the funeral of a friend and were transiting in Jakarta for three days before flying back to Slovenia via Kuala Lumpur. Tracy then asked why they had not undergone the mandatory six-day quarantine for foreign arrivals. The wife became nervous, claiming they didn’t need to quarantine because they had been vaccinated in Australia. Tracy had been intending to give them some money, but she became suspicious, knowing how difficult it is to fly in and out of Australia during the travel ban period. She asked if they could call a friend in Australia for assistance, but the wife said their only friend in Australia was already dead.
Once the family had left in the taxi, Tracy called the Swiss Belhotel Pondok Indah, where a receptionist said there were no Westerners staying there. But the receptionist did say that people often call the hotel to inquire about the Western family with the hard-luck story. Later, Tracy posted on her Instagram account about her encounter. Some netizens recognized the story and explained the family was known, scammers.
Begging and Extortion
Scammers come in all forms. Immigration officials in Tangerang, southwest of Jakarta, in late October deported three foreigners for begging and asking for donations. Tempo reported that two Pakistanis had been arrested while soliciting donations for a mosque, and a Chinese national was arrested for begging at Tangerang City Mall.
In Bali, a Russian named Evgenii Bagriantsev is about to go on trial at Denpasar District Court for posing as an Interpol officer and attempting to extort $28,000 from a Ukrainian expat who runs a motorbike rental business on the resort island.
Indonesian YouTubers have made loads of videos warning of “bule scammers” – invariably men, who contact Indonesian women via dating apps or social media, and claim they are sending some immensely valuable goods to prove their love. Of course, the promised valuables always require endless “advance fees” for spurious customs clearance, and the handsome “bule from England or America” is usually operating the scam from Africa or Jakarta.
The proportion of foreign scammers in Indonesia is pretty small, but their exploits will continue to generate more headlines than those who do no wrong.