Be wary of online scams, says minister

Aziz Idris

The outbreak of COVID-19 has pushed up prices of health and sanitation products like surgical masks and disinfectants on social media platforms.

In view of this, Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office and Minister of Finance and Economy II Yang Berhormat Dato Seri Setia Dr Awang Haji Mohd Amin Liew bin Abdullah urged the public to be wary of online scamsters who capitalise on the outbreak across the world.

He said, in time of crisis, people are scared, so the risk was greater than usual for fraud. The minister shared this during the afternoon session of the 16th Legislative Council meeting yesterday in response to a question by Legislative Council member Yang Berhormat Khairunnisa binti Awang Haji Ash’ari.

Earlier on, Yang Berhormat Khairunnisa explained that there have been a few online resellers on social media platform like Facebook and Instagram, who have been found benefitting from price-gouging on essential items including face mask and hand sanitiser.

She asked whether the government will take action against individuals who take advantage of the crisis by stockpiling or hoarding “essential items” with the intention to re-sell the products at a higher price on social media.

The minister, in response said consumers must be wary of purchasing essential items online as demand for these products is sky high, and in some cases so are the prices.

As the state regulatory, the Department of Competition and Consumer Affairs (DCCA) under Ministry of Finance and Economy (MoFE) will closely monitor local retailers to ensure ethical business practices are in place.

“A willing buyer is a willing seller,” said the minister, adding that “if you feel the price is high, don’t buy. It’s up to us (as consumers), if we feel the price is right, nobody will force you (to buy).” Touching on price hike of some online resellers taking advantage of the situation, the minister said currently these items are not under the price control of the Department of Economic Planning and Statistics, however the regulatory body will continuously monitor online prices particularly surgical masks and hand sanitisers as well as other essential items.

The public are also reminded to watch out for too-good-to-be-true claims like a “miracle cure” or things that are not recommended by local laws.

The public is advised to purchase from reputable sellers or sites and check with a doctor before buying anything virus-related.

The Minister of Health Yang Berhormat Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohammad Isham bin Haji Jaafar reminded the public that most people have little immediate risk and the best defence is hand washing and taking care of your personal hygiene.

In a press statement released by MoFE yesterday, 31 consumer complaints have been received by DCCA related to the increase in prices of face masks and hand sanitises.

DCCA and Treasury Department will continue to monitor the situation in the market and seek business cooperation, including those online to address the panic buying behaviour.