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Sunday, January 31, 2010

The bomoh strikes again, and again, and again ...

Con artists posing as bomohs and shamans are using the same old tricks to get into victims’ wallets – and pants – but many continue to fall for them.

A GANG of three women, one of them claiming to be related or familiar with a medium, would approach their victims on the pretext of asking for directions.

Once they are acquainted, they would scare the victims with their “I see dead people around you” confessions or prediction of tragedies hitting their family members.

Then they will offer the solution: make cash and jewellery offerings as prayers – through them or the medium they know – and everything will get better.

In exchange for the money, the victims will get prayers and a bag of “magic amulets” or other charms. When the victims open the bag later and realise that they have been cheated, the gang, with all their life savings and valuables, would have vanished into thin air.

Madam Wong (not her real name), 66, was fully aware of the menace, yet she almost fell victim to the gang at a market in Seri Kembangan a few years ago.

“The young woman who approached me was very nice and polite. She just wanted to know how to get to the place of a so-called famous medium. She asked me to show the way and touched my arm. Along the way, she just held my arm firmly but not too roughly, all the while telling me her sob story,” recalls Wong.

Although she could not remember details of the story, Wong shares that the young woman’s voice was very hypnotic.

“I felt very relaxed and drawn to her somehow. When she asked me to wait with her for her aunt and friend at a coffeeshop, I just agreed although I knew at the back of my mind that I really had to rush off because I was supposed to meet my son,” she continues.

The horror only started when the other two joined them. They stared at her and started babbling about spirits, the trouble her son would be in and the tragedies that might befall her family if she does not get her soul cleansed.

“The cacophony was deafening although they did not use loud voices. My head was just spinning with confusion over what they were saying. Then came the million dollar statement – ‘we know somebody who can help’.

“I felt a warning alarm going off in my head but I just could not fight them. They were asking me to withdraw money for the ritual when my son suddenly rushed into the coffeeshop and yanked me away. I was lucky.”

Now Wong tries not to go to the market alone, and when she needs to, she will leave her bank card at home.

Some are not as lucky.

Just last week, a 52-year-old widow lost about RM29,500, including jewellery, after she was approached by a similar gang of women at the Pudu market who claimed to have been sent by her late husband to save her family from bad luck.

A few days later, it was reported that a 61-year-old woman lost RM256,565 in savings and jewellery to a similar con when she was advised to conduct a cleansing ritual to get rid of the ghost of a pregnant accident victim who was following her.

Slick con

It is the same modus operandi, but people still fall for them, laments MCA Public Services and Complaints Bureau chief Datuk Michael Chong.

He notes that similar cases are lodged with his department every year.

“Although this has been happening for a long time, we notice that there has been a hike in the number of cases since 2004. It is not a syndicate but we believe that they are the same people. We are convinced they are from the same group and they have a few gangs of different operatives servicing different areas,” he says, adding that records of the last five years show that out of 14 cases received, 10 are suspected to be committed by the same gang.

Chong reveals that the police have agreed to do a photofit of the fake mediums and their gangs.

He reiterates his earlier warning that middle-aged women are the most vulnerable to the con.

“Women are easy targets. The gangs play on the women’s emotions; many would do anything to keep their children and grandchildren safe. They lie in wait in places where these women will be at their weakest, such as outside hospitals and banks or where it is easy for them to get lost in the crowd, such as the market and bus stop,” he adds.

Victims are mostly Chinese because of the language barrier. They are also the most likely to have big savings, he says.

Although most victims claim that they were hypnotised or charmed, Chong believes that the “magic” used is more scientific.

“I don’t believe they use magic or charm even though most of our victims claim that. I think they use drugs, for instance, to spike their victims’ drinks and chloroform to make them faint or drowsy. Some even use some kind of cigarette smoke to make victims feel sick,” he says.

The most effective weapon, he opines, is psychological. They strike where the victims are most vulnerable.

“They use very strong psychology to frighten the victims; they say you are going to die or that your children are going to die so that you will panic and do anything to change that,” he says, stressing that the con artists are cunning and will talk their victim into confusion so that they will not have time to think.

They are also experts in reading people and will tap into their insecurities.

“They will be able to read the best way to get under a person’s skin. For example, if they see a person is successful, they will undermine his confidence by pointing out that life is full of ups and downs. They will say that even if you are up now, you can easily fall, so to be safe, you had better get blessings, etc.”

Many are “spellbound” because of the Chinese belief that you cannot look back when you are getting rid of evil spirits or bad luck.

“The con artists know that if victims look back they will get their details like the make of their car or its number plate. It also gives them time to get away before the victims realise that their valuables and money are gone,” he explains.

Ingrained in our culture

It is easy for con artists to use the pretext of magic spells and charms to cheat people because supernatural beliefs are strong in Malaysian society, says Prof Dr Noriah Mohamed, principal research fellow at the Institute of Civilisation and the Malay World (ATMA) of Universiti Kebang­saan Malaysia.

“Although I have not done comparative research, we can see that it is evident in almost all the communities in the country,” she says, highlighting the history of Malays who used to believe in animism. Although it has been supplanted by Islamic beliefs, the animistic influence is still strong in Malay culture, she adds.

“Many people still believe in spirits and supernatural beings, so it is very easy to convince them they are possessed or being disturbed by these beings. That is why many will do anything to cast away those evil spirits or improve their fortunes,” she opines.

Reverend Rudy Liu concurs.

“Sometimes it is the generation gap. Although one may have already embraced another religion like Christianity or Islam, the belief in the supernatural is prevalent because we are not completely free of our culture. It is inherent. As we are community based, we respect our elders and whatever knowledge they pass to us. Sometimes, even when we fight it, we absorb everything our elders tell us,” he says.

He points out a few cases of those suffering from terminal illness.

“Sometimes, people are so desperate that they will seek whatever solution or answers they can find. For example, if science and medicine fail them, they will try to seek alternative treatment for their illness,” he notes.

Dr Noriah concurs.

“It is not strange to hear about people being cheated by bomohs because even graduates and professionals seek their help and advice. We have heard of many politicians who consult bomoh too,” she says.

Although she does not refute that there are those who do practise black magic, Dr Noriah believes that most of the so-called bomoh prey on people’s main obsessions – money and beauty.

That is one reason why rape by a bomoh is common, says Chong.

“Sorry to say, many women and girls are sweet-talked by bomohs because of their vanity. For example, the medium or bomoh will tell them that their aura is dim and it will be difficult for them to find a life partner, and the only way they can get their aura to shine brighter is by having sex with them. Unfor­tunately, many women believe them,” he says.

True, reports show that many have fallen for that ayat (line). According to the police, the number of women who have been raped and molested by bomohs and fortune-tellers may be higher because many are embarrassed to lodge reports.

Chong recommends that laws are tightened in order to regulate mediums, fortune-tellers and bomohs while eliminating the con men.

“There will be implementation issues but it may help educate people not to trust anyone who approaches them on the street claiming to know a medium or to be a medium or enter an empty house just because there is a flag or cloth outside claiming that they are mediums,” he says.

He also urges banks to monitor large withdrawals made by the elderly and to stop them should they suspect anything.

“This will help prevent them from falling prey to cheats,” he stresses.

More importantly, he says, education is vital to raise people’s awareness of these con artists.

“People must not be so superstitious. The authorities, associations, temples as well as other worship houses need to conduct campaigns and programmes to raise awareness.”


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