Selling anything from air traffic radar photos to accident litigation advice, some unscrupulous individuals have been attempting to make a quick buck from journalists covering the Malaysia Airlines flight 370 story in Kuala Lumpur.
Outside the media centre at Sama Sama Hotel near the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, a special correspondent working for the South China Morning Post was approached by a woman, claiming to be Indonesian, who said she could introduce an American lawyer with experience in dealing with aviation accidents.
“You pay money, he talk,” said the woman, who looked to be in her mid-40s.
She said the US lawyer was in town to represent some of the families of the 227 missing MH370 passengers. The airplane also had 12 crew.
A man claiming to be the “Indonesian” woman’s brother, who was more conversant in English, soon joined the conversation and said he could arrange a meeting.
He gave an Indonesian mobile number and kept pressing for this reporter’s contact details. When dialled later on, the number was not in service.
The pair were vague as to why they were in Malaysia. The woman seemed to indicate she had business in the country, while the man seemed to think he was on holiday with his sister.
Both initially said they were at the hotel waiting for their driver to pick them up, but eventually said goodbye and simply walked off.
A local fixer in Kuala Lumpur said that in recent days there had been many con men trying to sell “information” and even radar pictures. “There are many of them here. Be careful, don’t talk to them,” he said.
A cameraman and a correspondent from a news agency in based in Europe said they had been approached by such scammers as well.
One con man was allegedly selling a photo of a radar scan for US$1,000 and planned to hand it to the highest bidder among television networks.
A hotel security guard, who refused to be named, said: “They are just trying their luck because they don’t know that most of the good media from overseas won’t buy from them.”
Reporters and their news crews were only issued media passes almost a week after the media centre had opened. However the media passes have no attached photos or names on them.
The lack of security at the media centre has already led to theft, with some journalists losing their cameras and other devices. The Malaysian authorities have advised the press to be vigilant.