A Fatwa Against SMS Scams

By | May 29, 2006

Indonesia’s Islamic council of ulemas, MUI, has concluded their session with the issuance of the nineteen fatwas, or legal opinion concerning Islamic Law. Contrary to what the non-Muslim world thinks, a fatwa is not a sort of death sentence, although in certain circumstances and for some people they can be. Most are mere clarifications on where Islam, or that country, or sect, stands on a particular issue. The 19 fatwas in this case were about some controversial issues — a much debated anti-pornography law (a good thing, MUI says) — and the less controverial — such as “It is forbidden to recieve prizes via SMS.”

Now, on first blush this may seem somewhat odd. Why is such an august body troubling itself with pronouncing whether it’s OK to receive prizes via your cellphone? And as far as I know no further explanation is given for the reason, or why they’re discussing it. But actually, it’s a good thing, and here’s why. Indonesia is rife with scams — I think that’s why I love monitoring scams so much — and SMS is no exception. The most common one is a message that claims to be from a cellular operator saying that you’ve won a prize. All you need to do is to call a given number and register for your prize.

Of course, the number given to call doesn’t look anything like the cellular operator’s number — it’s often located in a remote suburb, where businesses rarely venture — and the source number doesn’t look very kosher either. Still, I’ve tried ringing a couple of these and they’re usually along the lines of either requesting your full bank details and PIN number plus faxing your ID card (presumably to empty your account instead of filling it) or else telling you, Nigerian scam-like, that you have to pay a registration fee before collecting your winnings. Similar scams have been discovered in China and Malaysia.

I somehow doubt that MUI had this in mind when they declared SMS prizes haram. But if it stops a few gullible folk falling for the scam, it’s probably a good thing.

5 thoughts on “A Fatwa Against SMS Scams

  1. Masindi

    I think MUI can just say: “Getting involved in a scam is forbidden.”
    (instead of having to be specific on the technology used in the scam).

    PS: Don’t forget to read the other new fatwas:

    ““The anti-discrimination bill (RUU Antidiskriminasi Ras) should not be passed.”

  2. patung

    They banned sms prizes because they consider it a veiled form of gambling, gambling of course being an outright no-no. They also made haram something called “Premium Call”, it’s actually all Greek to me, I’ve never had a mobile phone.

    And Masindi I added a comment to the original post which explains why they don’t like the anti-discrimination bill.

  3. Mark

    Most who get involved with these scams have given out their number to free text message services. I know place like peekamo offer their services of free sms without any spam.


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