Unhappy incident in KL (very delayed entry)

Kuala Lumpur Travel Blog

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This entry was originally typed up March 22, 2010 while at the Taipei airport at the very end of my trip. As a result, all subsequent entries will begin to appear shortly to wrap up this particular travel blog. Sorry for the lack of recent updates for all you realtime readers.


So, entering Day 3 of KL, I sleep in for a bit after the previous long day. From there, I decide to check out the Suria Mall. This is one of KL's top end malls and sits next to and underneath the Petronas Twin Towers. These towers are actually the corporate offices for the government owned Petronas Nasional Berhad, an oil and gas company, but the mall only goes up to about 5 floors. I actually only go to malls for one thing, to check out the bookstores. And Suria had the largest Kinokuniya in all of Malaysia. I was quite satisfied with my purchases too. I didn't actually bother taking the lift up the Petronas Towers because the guidebook says it's only available in the early morning and I'm not the kind to wake up early unless necessary. In hindsight, it probably would have been worth it since I heard there's even a bridge connecting the 2 towers around the 45th floor. If you think staring out the circular observatory at the top is all the same, I'm sure this bridge would have been a new experience.

Now to get onto the "interesting" event that I alluded to. After I got off the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) from Suria, I was approached by a young local male. He handed me what looked like a flyer. Seeing as how generally uninteresting such a thing is, I tried to put it away. However, the guy insisted I look at it. He said it was for a corporate sponsored raffle and that he gets a commission even if you don't win anything as long as he hands them out. So I look at it and it has a picture of a clown with a silver circle and the word "Special" on it. So I look for a coin to scratch it off, but the guy starts getting excited and shakes my hand says that I have a chance to claim a special prize. So, the first thing that comes to my mind is that I'm never this lucky so I'm a little wary.

The guy calls over one of his female associates nearby who also seems to be doing the same thing he is to show my ticket. I ask for a better explanation and they say I have to go with them to their office and that I'll need to take a taxi. Furthermore, while they'll come with me, they insist I pay for it. Now it's getting really suspicious. This is also despite their claims saying I don't have to pay anything for my prize earlier. But on that caveat, I weigh between seeing just what they want to show me and how real it might be versus the chance they'll drive me off to get robbed or something (these 2 are late teens and not particularly imposing looking). I'm not carrying that much cash, but my last debit card is on me of course. I decide to chance it and we hail a taxi. It proceeds to drive us some 15 minutes outside of town that I have no clue to its whereabouts. And it cost me 50 ringit flat rate. And when we arrive, the building is unmarked with no visible business name on the second floor.

Yeah, at this point, I'm calling BS because while the inside looks clean and somewhat furnished, it strikes me as a very informal looking place. The kind that can be packed up and disappear in a few hours. But still I step into the lion's den out of curiosity's sake. A lady sits down with me and explains how it works. They have a list of the special prizes that I can claim. Nicest 3 are some different cars all the way down to flight packages that can be redeemed with money and some smallish material goods like some homewide water filter. The silver circle I was looking at actually is put through some kind of magnifying glass that you put over it so that the prize number appears. They explain that while they have the small goods on hand, the larger ones have to be brought over. If you say win the car, you can get them to sell it for you and they'll send you the money later if you can't accept it (like in my caase). It all sounds good because even if I say win the car, even if they don't send me any money, it's not like I had earned it in the first place. Then they tell me the "catch." The corporation that does this (I guess some group that owns a huge store in the malls) does this for a government tax break. But the high end goods still have to pay tax. And these tax costs in special prizes go to the government. And this cost is passed down to this particular contracting company in order for them to be able to solicit and hand out the tickets. And now because they're worried that if I see my prize and it's a top prize, that I'll take ownership of it (even if it's a car) without contributing to this tax break cost. In other words, now they want me to front some money. Said tax break is something like 3,000 ringit which is like US$1,000!

I'm flabbergasted and say I can't even withdraw that much from an ATM on a single day (it was evening at this time too so the banks were closed). I try to play it off and ask them if they'll take like 50 ringit (considering I had around 100 and also would need to pay my way back to KL). They said they needed a significant chunk from the prize winner, at least half. I asked them what about if you had solicited some of the locals and their bank accounts don't even have half that much. They said they would adjust for locals, but that if I could pay a greater portion of it as insurance, that'd be preferable. Logic was definitely warped here. Pretty much at this point, the whole thing was a bust. I argued with the lady and the 2 kids and then decided that I just wouldn't accept the prize because the whole thing was way too fishy and that they lied that I wouldn't need to put money forth. They tried to guilt trip me into doing it because if I won a car, their office gets a 3,000 ringit additional commission and I would be doing them a disservice. But while I said I would have paid the proper costs, they said I still needed to give them some money. They wouldn't even let me see what prize I would have won with their magnifying glass unless I had some money on hand. Finally, I just said I couldn't do this for them and quickly got up to leave and told them that someone else could claim it. Thankfully, while they followed me trying to get me to stop, they didn't forcibly stop me. I got back outside and with the kids trailing me, I quickly hailed a taxi and got in alone.

There's nothing too much that happened after this exchange. After I got back to my hotel, I went online to do some research on this sort of thing. I found it after a little bit and the descriptions were that it was indeed a scam. Pretty much described in similar degrees as what I had seen. Viewing several reports showed that if you viewed your prize, you would actually get one of the smaller prizes so there was no car for you to take ownership of or vacation trip redeemable for cash, but you still had to pay a tax. But these smaller items which they would have on hand in the building were relatively worthless if you claimed them right there and tried to resell them. So, with this confirming revelation, I was a little unhappy with the whole event and I left the following as a free day. Coincidentally, when I initially got off the MRT that evening, I was on my way to buy my bus ticket to Singapore, but the whole incident delayed my departure for a day. At least on the 24th, I went to a nearby A&W restaurant (which I don't even see in America) and got myself a nice hamburger with a root beer float. Man that was good; we need to see some of these where I'm at in So Cal. And on the 25th in the early afternoon, I departed by bus for Singapore.

In hindsight, going along with these strangers was actually extremely risky, especially since I was alone with no phone. So let this kind of information serve as a warning that if you're approached with this kind of thing in Kuala Lumpur, it's a huge scam. What saddens me in reading the accounts of other victims is that this whole thing is prevelant enough that police haven't cracked down on these perps. It also saddens me that some of these people are kids and that they're openly perpetuating this scheme, perhaps for years. The whole idea of it depresses me, especially because the banter during the whole thing (while obviously trying to build trust between schemer and victim) comes off as honest curiosity, even if it's just temporary. My faith in humanity took a huge blow that day.
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