Get Legal Advice Early

Some of you may have caught the news about the 72 year old, Dolly Ng, a former piano teacher who inherited about RM 4+ million from her parents but lost it all as a result of the Macau scam. I quote the material portions:

Some time in May last year, a person, claiming to be a policeman, contacted her.

“The caller told me that my money in the accounts was under investigation by the authorities.

“He advised me to open a new account and transfer the entire amount there, ’’ said Ng.

The former piano teacher said she followed the instructions and transferred RM4.3mil into the new account.

“About two months later, a friend told me about some scams during a casual conversation. [Italics mine]

29 October 2020, The Star, Nation, page 3

What I never understand about people like Dolly Ng is why they never seek legal advice when asked to do something as outrageous as that i.e. transferring millions into an unknown account based on an unverified phone call? It costs you just a few hundred ringgit to see a lawyer. When you put it in perspective, the sum you pay to see a lawyer is imperceptibly small relative to the larger scheme of things.

Let’s say, Dolly Ng spent RM 500 to consult a competent lawyer to ask about this phone call. The lawyer would have immediately told her not to bother about it and avoid the phone call. A better one may advise her how to deal with the caller and maybe even turn the tables on them. My hunch is there must have been someone on the inside too. How would they know to target her? Now back to legal consultation. RM 500 is 0.05% of RM 1,000,000. Dolly Ng transferred RM 4.3 million. Now RM 500 is 0.01% of her entire fortune. Because she was not willing to spend that little to safeguard the rest, she lost it all.

This is why I always, always, always, tell people get legal advice early. Not necessarily from me. You no like me, no problem. But please, still, get advised legally early from someone you are comfortable taking advice from.

Legal advice is like insurance; we can pay the small premiums every month diligently or pay the whopper of a bill when that unfortunate event happens. Dolly Ng’s case is a perfect illustration of how being legally advised is important and could have averted her tragedy. I wrote elsewhere some years back how I would like the Bar Council to set up something like this First Client Consultant Proposal to avoid moments like those.

The astute and discerning (not necessarily wealthy) often consult professionals for advice before they make their decisions. They know that it is cheaper to be advised early so they don’t get into an expensive mess in the future. Legal problems do not remain preserved like dinosaurs in amber, but fester and grow more intractable with the passing of time. The more intractable it becomes, the more expensive it becomes to resolve it.

When I read news about people like Dolly Ng – people of such obvious cons – I just shake my head and think, Don’t be so cheap! Go speak to a lawyer or someone who can point you to one. If that lawyer doesn’t know the answer, ask them to refer you to one that does. Just get advised. These tragedies are easily avoided and is cheap compared to the potential loss.

I get fraudulent calls every once in a while myself and the question is whether it is a recorded kind of message and I have the time to mess with them. Once, while I was in the middle of some work I got a call from a Putrajaya number.

I picked up and this guy tells me his name; says he was from IPD Putrajaya. He then tells me I was involved in a fatal car accident in Penang involving some car number on some night. The victim was in intensive care and may die, so I may be charged with “302” or “304” i.e. murder or culpable homicide not amounting to murder, depending how it plays out.

I politely told him that I was in Selangor the whole time and home that night. I have a house of witnesses; and he got my car registration number wrong too.

He replied, In that case, he will transfer me to his colleague in Penang. Now, I knew all this was nonsense but I just wanted to see where it lead. I stopped him and asked him where in Putrajaya he was stationed. He said the IPD Putrajaya Building at Precinct 7. I said great, which floor and which room? I will go and see him right now to clear up this confusion. He said he would transfer me to Penang as he was supposed to. No need, I shot back.

He said, it’s okay, I will transfer you. I said, see you in 45 minutes and hung up. I didn’t go, of course. He never called back either. We lawyers know that’s just not how the police work. If they want to arrest you, they will get a 16 man team and crash through your door and cuff you; unless you are some VIP, then as you please, sir!

The craziest part about this is I called the number back right after I hung up. I thought I wanted to throw the caller off guard. Instead, a lady officer from IPD Putrajaya picked up and confirmed it was an official police station phone number. I told her about my incident. Her reply? You’re the eighth person to complain today, we are looking into it. The fraudsters were so brazen. They could somehow tap the official phone line and use it to call out! No wonder members of the public were fooled.

For lawyers (the competent ones), calls like the Macau scam are child’s play; we can spot them the moment we hear the message. But to those not used to confronting such assertion of power, they simply yield to it without thinking. Dolly would have gone on thinking it was all fine if not for her friend who heard it was a scam. That was the amazing part, she didn’t think she had been taken advantage until two months after. Now she’s suing the bank for the return of her money.

That’s how it always ends up – if you don’t want to sit in a lawyer’s office early, you will end up sitting in a judge’s courtroom late.

Get legal advice early; don’t do a Dolly.

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