KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 1 — What was initially thought to be a brazen kidnapping attempt outside a school in Ipoh, Perak, later turned out to be a hoax, and has spawned several other claims that have also been debunked by the police.
Malay Mail examines what was claimed in the series of incidents, and the information that were later discovered.
Gua Musang, Kelantan
What was claimed: Two primary students at SK Sri Wangi narrowly escaped being abducted in separate incidents on September 19 and 20, purportedly after rejecting attempts to lure them into a Perodua Myvi as they were leaving their religious classes.
This triggered the state police to investigate the allegations and deploy additional patrols near schools in the area as a precaution.
What happened: Kelantan police chief Datuk Muhamad Zaki Harun said officers investigating the allegations found that the individuals accused of the attempted abductions to be at the school for valid reasons. He explained that in a similar case in Kuala Krai, the person suspected turned out to be an employee making monthly collections for his company.
What was claimed: An eight-year-old student from SK Pengkalan in Ipoh, Perak, was nearly abducted in an incident on September 23. The claim was made in a video showing a white panel van, which went viral shortly after it was posted online.
Some of those resharing the video also claimed children were being abducted purportedly for organ harvesting.
What happened: According to Perak police chief Datuk Yusri Hassan Basri, the student told investigators he faked the incident to try and learn what would happen in a real kidnapping situation. The student admitted to coming up with the idea after watching similarly-themed videos he found on TikTok, WhatsApp, and Telegram.
Police also traced the white panel van shown in the video and found it to be a vehicle for worker transport.
Separately, Bukit Aman corporate communications head ACP A. Skandaguru also said that the organ harvesting claims date back to 2017 and were being reshared in light of the incident.
What was claimed: On September 28, a woman claimed on Facebook that an unidentified person had appeared outside her home in a heavily-tinted vehicle and was attempting to abduct her children.
What happened: Police responding to the alert found that the person accused had gone to a neighbouring home to deliver and change the gas stove there. The woman who made the claim then apologised.
Pasir Gudang, Johor
What was claimed: Internet users sharing an online video claimed it showed a student at an unnamed school in Johor fleeing from would-be kidnappers.
What happened: Police investigating the video found it to be from a May 17 incident in which a mentally-unstable man running away from a student at Taman Scientex, Pasir Gudang, on May 12. Johor police chief Datuk Kamarul Zaman Mamat said it was not of any kidnapping attempt, before noting the spike in claims resembling the Ipoh incident.
What was claimed: Gombak police received three separate reports on September 30 from parents who said their children — two nine-year-olds and a seven-year-old — told them they had nearly been abducted outside their primary schools by unidentified men.
What happened: Police investigating the reports interviewed witnesses present during the time of the alleged events — including security personnel and warden — and examined surveillance footage from the schools involved, and concluded that there was no evidence of any abduction attempts as claimed.
After each of the incidents, the police urged the public not to spread the videos and allegations before verifying the facts, as doing so could cause unnecessary alarm or panic.
However, this has not stopped more of these claims from mushrooming online, with increasingly alarmist claims.
Khalil Majeed, managing editor at Faqcheck Lab, said the best course of action when one is alarmed but uncertain about online information was to report it to the authorities instead of sharing it online.
However, he acknowledged the instinct to act in haste, especially when young children could be at risk.
“Therefore, I will never fault the parents in this,” Khalil said when contacted.
David Chak, co-founder of education social enterprise Arus Academy, said it was advisable to be sceptical of information that could not be verified using more than one source, and not to share it if this were not possible.
Chak was another who acknowledged the tendency to distribute such claims without verification out of concern, saying it was natural to be alarmed.
“Also, some people are called altruistic misinformation spreaders. They think they are doing good by sharing such things. So, when you get that piece of news and want to share it with others, the way you frame the question or statement is important.
“For example, it’s okay to say there may be kidnappers out there, keep an eye out for more news and information rather than saying things like ‘there are kidnappers here, be careful, protect your kids’, things like that. That way we can avoid panic,” he said when contacted.
Meanwhile, Associate Professor Sabariah Mohamed Salleh from the Centre for Media & Communications Research at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia said a basic online search would typically debunk many of these hoaxes.
“Google is the best way. I know it sounds simple and too easy, but it’s true. Be aware of the messages you receive on WhatsApp as well. If there’s a lot of ’forwarded many times’ then you could surmise it may be fake or misinformation.
“Also, always be a sceptic. Question why, be critical about what you are receiving and frequent websites like FaqCheck Lab or MyCheck. Follow them on Instagram and other platforms, drop them a message as they are the ones who are on the ball and can debunk the news,” she said .
* A previous version of this story contained errors which have since been corrected.