Last year, it was reported that 1.7 million Malaysians had been conned a total of RM4.4 billion from 2013; this translates to 1,164 Malaysians losing RM3 million every day. FILE PIC

AS social media gains more prominence in the lives of Malaysians, unscrupulous parties are making money from unsuspecting Malaysians eager to be part of the growing trend of fancy influencers, Instagram models and online marketers.

Recently, there were a few long threads on Twitter, one of the social media platforms commonly used by Malaysians these days, especially by the younger generation.

The threads were about social media freelancing jobs which were advertised in LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and other digital channels promising jobs and payments in US dollars.

The advertisements said a company was looking for social media freelancers aged 20 to 26, with at least a diploma, and that the salary would be paid in the American currency.

Many young students and graduates applied for the jobs and were called to attend a special event held for all the interested job-seekers. However, they were asked to put a deposit of RM700 and it had to be on the spot!

Some lucky ones felt something was amiss and did not continue to pursue the “job”.

Others, desperate to find a decent living and believing the earlier speeches from the “successful people” telling their stories of big cars, fortune and fame after joining the “organisation”, paid the sum and joined.

Little did they know that the job was a multi-level marketing (MLM) scheme, where participants had to find more and more people to join them, in addition to forking out money.

The “social media” classes were merely online recordings that taught basic knowledge of social media, content which can be easily found on YouTube.

Victims had reportedly paid up to RM8,000 without getting any returns, only to be pressured to find more participants to get their money back and unwittingly enriching those at the top of the pyramid.

The modus operandi of MLM is to latch on the current trend to entice victims who are interested to have an online business.

Pyramid promoters are masters of group psychology. At recruiting meetings they create a frenzied, enthusiastic atmosphere with promises of easy money. It is difficult to resist this kind of appeal unless one recognises that the scheme is rigged against you.

As in any MLM schemes, only the early founders will get high returns for each new recruit and the ones at the bottom have to work hard to convince their friends and family to join or risk losing everything.

There was nothing to learn about social media except to post job opportunities to lure new unsuspecting victims. Being young and naive, it is sad to know that many students and graduates parted ways with their hard-earned money while others lost more than that.

Malaysians need to be more wary and vigilant of scams, be they online or offline, as last year it was reported that 1.7 million Malaysians had been conned a total of RM4.4 billion from 2013.

That roughly translates to 1,164 Malaysians losing a total of RM3 million every day!

Being from the social media industry, I am sad to hear of these stories, especially when it paints a bad light on the industry from which so many are trying to make an honest living.

Social media is an interesting and fun industry, but just like any other field, it requires passion, hard work and perseverance to be successful in the long run.

There are legal avenues that come from the government that one can look into to enhance their knowledge of social media, for example, the E-Usahawan programme by Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation or courses offered by firms listed under the Human Resources Development Fund.

There are many affordable online programmes where one can learn about social media or digital marketing.

Let’s be vigilant of dubious schemes and share and shame those who did wrong, or at best, report them to the authorities.

Shun business models that focus on recruitment rather than the sale of a product or service to consumers.

If the opportunity for income is primarily from recruiting people than by selling a product or service, it is probably illegal. That’s how Ponzi did it in the 1920s, giving the scheme a name most Americans refer to as the business of “robbing Peter to pay Paul”.

P.T. Barnum, an American showman of the mid-19th century, said: “There’s a sucker born every minute”, but in the fast-paced world of digital communications, a sucker is born every second and pulls another five suckers down, virally.

SYED KHALID

Vice-president, Malaysia Social Media Chambers

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