THERE are as many bogus police, scammers and conmen and women on the streets of London as there are tourists. Especially in summer. And it would seem, from reports and nationality of the victims, most of these conmen and women are making Malaysian visitors’ favourite spots as their hangouts. The one targeted area being Bayswater in central London. To be precise, within the vicinity of Malaysia Hall canteen, not too far away from Bayswater and Queensway stations.
Sit at a table in the canteen and while sipping your teh tarik, engage in a conversation with your fellow Malaysian devouring his nasi campur. A conversation would inevitably lead to their unfortunate encounters with some strange characters on the sidewalk, sometimes, right in front of this Malaysian diplomatic building.
Some really unfortunate ones would have stories to tell about how two or three plainclothes policemen had stopped and searched them. It was not until they took out their wallet to pay for their food that they realised some holiday money had gone missing.
Some would know of others who had the misfortune to have their holidays marred this way.
I had a similar conversation with some friends visiting London recently. Apparently, being accosted on their short walk back to their hotel from the Malaysia Hall canteen, was an everyday occurrence verging on it being an annoyance, to say the least.
“It was on our first day in London, and while walking from Bayswater Station to Malaysia Hall canteen to have dinner before checking in at our hotel, we were approached by three men. One asked my son-in-law the whereabouts of King’s Cross Station, but because my son-in-law did not entertain his question, two other men approached us. They flashed their ‘police badge’. This happened exactly outside the canteen,” said Haji Ahmad Abdul Kadir, who was holidaying with his wife Hajjah Hashimah Harun, daughter and son-in-law.
Unfortunately for the trio, Ahmad knew what they were up to and they left in a huff and empty-handed, perhaps searching for their next victim.
“We chased them away by shouting loudly at them and they went off muttering among themselves,” added Ahmad, whose experience five years ago taught him this valuable lesson; never to give in to these so-called plainclothes police who claimed to be searching for drugs or illegal money.
In 2013, Ahmad and his wife arrived in London from Frankfurt and had gone to Bayswater searching for accommodation. Bayswater is a stone’s throw away from the popular shopping centre that is Oxford Street, and more importantly, it is an area popular with Malaysians because of the availability of Malaysian-owned hotels and eateries, such as Malaysia Hall canteen, Putera Puteri, Selesa, Oodle Noodle and Rasa Café.
“We were lugging our big bags when we were approached by two men who claimed to be the police. They flashed their cards. It was so fast and we could not see the details on the cards.
They then asked us to show our money, apparently to ascertain that we were not money launderers,” said Ahmad about the ill-fated day.
“My wife panicked and immediately handed over her bag which had money in British currency. I only showed him my bag.”
What Ahmad described further sent me the shivers as it was something that I had heard being alluded to recently.
“I felt as if I was put in a trance (rasa seperti dipukau). We just did what they told us to do.
“When he handed back the bag to my wife, then only we realised that more than £800 had disappeared. And although I only showed him my bag, I had lost more than £300,” said Ahmad of the incident that nearly ruined his holiday.
However, this did not put him off London, for during his return trip last month, he and his wife were more than prepared.
Whenever stopped by these conmen, they would raise their voices loud and chase them away.
Sadly, other victims of these scams didn’t have the wisdom of hindsight nor a warning from other victims.
To date, a family of six lost €6,000, a family of three lost £3,000 and another lost £1,500; all to bogus policemen and their accomplices, who would do the recce by pretending to ask for directions.
Concerned about the increasing rate of Malaysians falling victim, Education Malaysia had published a warning on their website. In fact, a Google away on bogus police, conmen in London, will fully inform you of their modus operandi.
Very rarely would a plainclothes policeman stop a tourist. Policemen who do checks are always in their uniforms. If stopped by someone claiming to be a police, ask again to see the card that they flashed. Their cards should have a photograph of the officer, his or her name, identity number and a Metropolitan Police service hologram.
Also insist on them taking you to the police station, and call 101 or if urgent, call 999.
What should trigger the alarm bell is that, why should someone stop someone else who is obviously a tourist, to ask for directions. When this happens, expect his accomplice to appear within minutes. A real policeman usually patrols in his car and would be in uniform. They never asked for ID as people are not required to carry IDs here.
An online security course I had to take recently before travelling to Malaysia advised that we carry a second wallet with only minimal amount of money that would hopefully pacify the conmen. Better still, do not carry a lot of cash and even more importantly, do not let just one person carry all the spending money. These conmen know, from the shopping bags that Malaysians carry, they have a lot of spending money.
Be wary, too, if someone suddenly asks you to take his or her mobile phone for a picture. As soon as you do that, the accomplice would duly appear and you would be accused of trying to steal the phone. Believe me, this has happened, right outside Malaysia Hall too!
So, if all else fail, do what Ahmad and his family did — scream and shout to get attention and embarrass them until they go away.