Crime and Scams in Malaysia: Tips to Keep You Safe

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Malaysia is considered low risk when it comes to scams on tourists, although petty crime is common. Find out what crime and scams to look out for to stay safe.

Chinese lanterns at Kek Lok Si temple, George Town, Penang, Malaysia Photo © Getty Images/Inti St Clair

Petty crime

Bag snatching

Bag snatching is a common crime in Malaysia, travellers should be especially careful in busy areas such as Johor Bahru. If a motorbike drives past you and attempts to grab your bag - let them have it. Many travellers have been injured and killed when bags have been held on to or wrapped around bodies while being dragged under motorbikes.

By only carrying small amounts of money and keeping your passport in your hotel safe or hostel reception, losing a bag shouldn't be such a devastating thing.

Credit card fraud

Credit cards are a popular method for travelers to pay for things. However, credit card fraud is common throughout Malaysia, affecting small businesses right up to major hotels and retailers. Always keep your card in sight when paying for services or goods and always get a transaction receipt. Try to sort your accommodation before traveling and keep cash on you for small payments.

ATM fraud

Unfortunately, ATM fraud is also common in Malaysia so travelers need to take precautions when using ATM machines. Try and avoid using ATM's on the street, particularly at night. Instead, opt to use an ATM inside a bank or hotel. Always get a receipt of your last balance and keep a track of your purchases. This also applies to credit card transactions. Don't forget to tell your bank when you are traveling to/from so you don't get cut off from your funds and you can also keep a track of things particuarly when you get home should suspicious transactions appear in your account.

Card game scams in Malaysia

Crooks in Malaysia aren't that original. Travellers should be able to smell a scam a mile away. A good rule of thumb, if something seems too good to be true, it usually is.

There is a very common and standard card game scam played on tourists in Malaysia. The tourist will be shown a foolproof system to win a game of blackjack or poker after being invited to a locals house for dinner.

Once the traveller is continuously "winning" under the hosts guidance, a rich friend of the host just happens to show up. (Sense where this is heading?)

Once the rich guy loses a few hands, the traveller increases the bet, even making confident trips to the ATM until the host and his mates uncover their foolproof win system, resulting in one poor traveller.

It's surprising travellers fall for this old trick, but locals are smooth talkers so take any games played as a bit of holiday fun only.

Use common sense to Malaysia

Take care of your personal belongings and leave any valuables in your accommodation if they provide a safe either in your room or at reception. A scan of your passport kept on your phone or in your email is a good idea, no matter where you are travelling.

Also, take a minute to remember some basic advice:

  • Don't keep your wallet in your back pocket
  • Don't open the door to strangers
  • Buy your own padlocks rather than use the hostel/chalet provided ones
  • Keep your bag on the inside of the kerb while walking down the street
  • Don't accept drinks you haven't witnessed being poured
  • Don't walk down dark alleys with locals, no matter how badly you want to buy that packet of cigarettes or find the closest ATM.

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  • nick said

    We were scammed in twin pines guesthouse in tanah rata. We paus 400 for à tour but guide did not show up. The employees then claimed they did not know the man with which we booked.


  • Kconan said

    Very basically, just say "NO" to anyone who solicits your attention in a touristy area or an airport departure area.


  • Adam said

    I've been all over Asia; Malaysia is easily the safest country in all of Asia to travel and be a tourist in. Pretty much like Singapore. I've determined this after several trips there. The people have good behaviour, especially noticed this in the Malays. It is relatively well off, and people don't hustle on the streets or hassle passer-by, much unlike many other countries. I saw ONE beggar there, in all of my trips there, and I went to many non-touristy locations. Great place to travel.


  • David from said

    Great article, thanks for the tips! On a trip to Malaysia you can visit beautiful beaches, enjoy some of the best diving in the world, explore a vibrant metropolis such as Kuala Lumpur, commune with nature or explore the amazing street food scene. However, there are a number of crimes and scams to be wary of

    Do be wary of snatch thefts, pickpocketing, child flower sellers, fake monks, spiked drinks, fake goods, smash and grab car robbery, rogue taxis, fake tickets, unsolicited tours, gambling invitations, fake police and many more!


  • Anne said

    If you’re planning on moving to Malaysia as a foreigner be careful of PROPERTY RENT SCAM it’s not published in any news in Malaysia but I was victim and lost RM3,600 for a property that I was supposed to stay in at KL. Don’t believe owners posting on any app especially MUDAH. Only deal with licensed property agent get their name and license no. check it on website. If they say lawyer will proceed get the complete lawyer’s name and license no. be sure to call them from time to time too.


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