This genius marketing idea might be illegal in Malaysia.5 months ago
You’re driving out for lunch one day to get food from your favourite hawker centre. Assuming the parking machines work in your area, you go and pay for parking and display the ticket on your dashboard as usual. But when you come back from your satisfying meal, you see this on your windscreen.
Your first reaction is to get mad. What is that local council officer doing giving you a fine even after you paid the parking fee? But upon closer inspection, your anger turns to confusion; this piece of paper isn’t from your local council. In fact, it’s not even a saman at all!
It’s an ad! From Ah Longs…
Turns out it’s a very creative but equally illegal ad created for another “pinjaman berlesen”. We normally just throw the flyers on our cars away, but if it looks like a saman from our local council, we’ll probably take a closer look. Sounds like a good idea, right?
NO, bad idea!
While you might be wondering who designed this ad so you can hire them for your next marketing campaign, you may need to reconsider because this may also land you in trouble with the law. MBPJ has actually lodged a police report, and put out a press statement against the fake summons because the name and logo on the “saman” are way too similar to theirs. It also turns out the “Malaysia Pinjaman Berlesen Agency” is not connected to “Majlis Bandaraya Petaling Jaya”, and doesn’t have a real license.
Making documents that look like they come from an official source is a recognized crime under our Penal Code. It’s under “forgery” in Section 463, and it includes making a false document with the intention to get someone to enter a contract with them. Advertisers put their ads out there to get more customers - more people to enter contracts with them, so advertisements fall under this law. So the bottom line is: making “saman” flyers is a creative way to advertise, but it also might be an illegal one!
You’ll also note that forgery includes situations where:
Someone wants to cause damage or injury to the public or a person
To support any claim or title (like the forged land titles in Boonsom Boonyanit case)
To make someone part with their property
To commit fraud
The phrase “making a false document” actually has a specific meaning documented in Section 464 of our Penal Code. For our purposes, the part below is the most relevant.
In plain English, it means if you make a document with the intention to cheat someone or trick them into thinking it was made by another person, you can be found guilty of “making a false document”. There are a lot of illustrations that you can look through in Section 464, but they’re very long so we won’t include them here. The punishment for forgery is stated under Section 465 - up to 2 years of jail and/or a fine.
But there could be more. These “saman” ads also look like they were issued by MBPJ because of the similarity in the name and logo. Is that also another crime? It depends on the facts and the situation, but it could be recognized as two other offences under Malaysian law.
It might also be cheating, and being an impostor!
If an ad is designed to trick or confuse people, it could fall under an even bigger crime. Section 468 of our Penal Code make a crime to commit forgery for the purpose of cheating.
The legal meaning of “cheating” is defined in Section 415, which basically says that if you trick someone into giving over their property, or do anything they wouldn’t that could cause harm, you may be found guilty of cheating. Again, the law put in a handful of examples under Section 415 to illustrate the point better. This applies only to specific situations where the person is deceived, so if your “saman” ad is just a cute way to draw attention, like these ads that look like samans but were clearly from known companies, it could be perfectly legal if you’re not pretending to be the local council.
So if you were trying to cheat people by pretending to be a licensed moneylender, or if you confuse people into thinking you might be connected to the local council, you might be found guilty of cheating by personation under Section 416. It’s basically the same as Section 415’s cheating except where someone is pretending to be someone they are not. The penalty for this is under Section 419, which is up to 7 years of jail and/or a fine.
If you get “official” contact that looks suspicious, double check with the real authorities!
Some not-so-honest people out there may be trying to make a quick buck off of you, they’ll exploit your trust in well-known symbols and may even use psychological tactics to make you do what they want. It’s not just these Ah Long ads that try to appeal as an official money lending channel, some businesses out there also use similar logos to well-known brands to make you think they’re related, such as this incident where Azeri Asia TV copied AirAsia’s logo.
There are also the more extreme cases where “Hong Leong Bank”, “Bank Negara”, or even the “PDRM” call you to cheat you of your money. It’s known as the “Macau Scam”, which we’ve covered before at this link.
[READ MORE - Some companies copy famous brands to mislead YOU]
If you receive documents that look similar to government agencies’, it doesn’t hurt to double check with them. You can also make a police report to help the investigation or highlight the issue to them.
Jie Sheng knows a little bit about a lot, and a lot about a little bit. He swings between making bad puns and looking overly serious at screens. People call him "ginseng" because he's healthy and bitter, not because they can't say his name properly.