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Malaysia 2013 Crime and Safety Report

East Asia & Pacific > Malaysia > Kuala Lumpur

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The overall crime rate is designated as “Medium,” and violent crime against expatriates is relatively uncommon. Most criminal activity directed against foreigners is limited to non-violent crimes of opportunity such as petty theft, purse snatching, and credit card fraud. Residential break-ins do occur and are becoming more frequent in standalone houses; these break-ins generally do not result in confrontations or injuries to the occupants.

Crime Threats

Purse snatching is the most frequently reported crime against expatriates and Malaysian citizens. The usual modus operandi (MO) is one or two males on a motorbike approaching the target from the rear and snatching a purse, handbag, or cell phone. The most common targets are women walking alone. These types of robberies occur at all hours, in front of witnesses, and even in upscale neighborhoods. Victims have been injured after being dragged by robbers attempting to snatch their shoulder bags. 

Credit card fraud has decreased in recent years but continues to be a problem. Unauthorized charges may not show up on a credit card account for several months (and can unexpectedly appear in amounts of US$10,000 or more). One of the more common MOs is for employees in retail stores to swipe the credit card in a legitimate transaction under the counter, where account information is “skimmed” into a machine that either transmits the information or it stores the information for reproduction. In some cases, more sophisticated criminals have tapped into data lines of legitimate establishments to obtain account information. ATM cash withdrawals are safe as long as the ATMs are associated with reputable Malaysian or international banks. 

Residential burglaries in Kuala Lumpur (KL) occur mostly in stand-alone residences in neighborhoods with large expatriate communities. Some burglars have entered when occupants were at home, tied the residents up, and threatened them with weapons. RSO has not received any reports of injuries to these victims. Gated apartment complexes with 24-hour guards have a much lower burglary rate than other residential units, and apartments in general are burglarized less often than stand-alone residences. Major international hotels have good security and enjoy a low incidence of crime. 

Overall Road Safety Situation

Vehicles are right-hand drive, and traffic moves on the left side. Roads, especially highways, are generally well maintained. Monsoon rains, however, can flood roads in low-lying areas, usually outside of KL. Traffic is very heavy, especially in and around KL. Motorbikes are numerous and weave in and out of traffic, cross into oncoming traffic lanes, and run red lights. This poses a hazard for both drivers and pedestrians who are unfamiliar with Malaysian traffic patterns. Road rage does to occur. If involved in an accident, drivers should report the incident to the police within 24 hours.

Malaysian drinking and driving laws are strictly enforced with serious penalties. Police operate sobriety checkpoints in many entertainment districts frequented by foreigners. At these checkpoints, drivers are required to submit to a breath alcohol test and are subject to arrest if the police officer determines the breath sample to be over the legal limit. 

Incidents where motorbike riders smash a vehicle passenger window stopped at traffic lights and snatch purses or other valuables sitting on the passenger seat have been reported. Vehicular burglaries also occur, targeting vehicles parked at residences or alongside city streets. As in any burglary, criminals usually hit soft targets with obvious vulnerabilities and/or with valuables in plain view.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence 

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

Since 1969, political violence has been almost non-existent. There are two main terrorist groups in the Southeast Asia region, Abu-Sayyaf Group (ASG) and Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), that have suspected links with al-Qai’da. There have been numerous terrorist attacks in the region, but Malaysia has not had any significant terrorist incidents.

Civil Unrest

In light of national elections likely being held in the coming months, it is possible demonstrations and political rallies may increase. Small-scale public demonstrations are occurring more frequently in KL (including shopping areas frequented by U.S. citizens) and sometimes arranged at short-notice via social media. There is usually a police presence although occasionally “illegal” protests occur.  

Religious or Ethnic Violence 

Over the last five years, Malaysia has experienced an increased number of demonstrations over racial tensions, political divisions, and U.S. policies in the Middle East. These demonstrations are generally peaceful, but a new law makes it illegal for non-Malaysians to participate in public protests and U.S. citizens should avoid them. 

Post-specific Concerns 

Environmental Hazards

Malaysia’s location makes it less susceptible to earthquakes and tsunamis than other countries in Southeast Asia. A tropical monsoon season lasts from November to about mid-February. During this period, heavy rains and thunderstorms occur almost daily. Urban areas with poor drainage and other low-lying areas can suffer flooding. In less-developed rural areas, this flooding can cause landslides. 

Drug-related Crime

Malaysian legislation provides for the death penalty for convicted drug traffickers. Individuals arrested in possession of 15 grams (1/2 ounce) of heroin or 200 grams (seven ounces) of marijuana are presumed by law to be trafficking in drugs.

Kidnapping Threats

In April 2000, the Abu Sayyaf Group, based in the southern Philippines, kidnapped 20 people (including 10 Westerners) in eastern Sabah and retains the capability to conduct operations in the region. Other criminal elements have committed acts of kidnapping in the region. The government and other regional authorities have increased their law enforcement presence in eastern Sabah and the resort islands, enhancing their ability to deter and prevent attacks, but the size and remoteness of the region makes it possible that there may be future security incidents affecting U.S. citizens. 

Police Response

The Royal Malaysian Police (RMP) is a national police force that is well trained and equipped. The RMP generally provide good law enforcement support to the U.S. Embassy and have responded favorably to the needs of the U.S. private sector and to American citizens in general. 

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

If an American citizen encounters an incidence of police detention or harassment, the U.S. Embassy should be notified immediately.

Where to Turn to for Assistance if you Become a Victim of Crime

Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating the law, even unknowingly, may be fined, expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. 

Victims of crimes should call the national emergency telephone number: 999, the Malaysian equivalent of 911 in the United States. In tourist areas, the RMP have established small “Tourist Police” stations to assist tourists in case of an emergency.

Medical Emergencies

KL has modern medical facilities that are generally comparable, in terms of quality of care, to those in the U.S. In an emergency, it is recommended the victim be transported immediately to a hospital. Local emergency ambulance service staff are not trained to U.S. standards. However, if ambulance transport is required, two recommended services are:
St. John Ambulance:  03 9285-5294;
Red Crescent Ambulance:  03-4257-8726.

Contact Information for Recommended Local Hospitals and Clinics

The two hospitals in the KL area most frequently used by expats are:

Gleneagles Intan Medical Center (preferred for after-hours emergencies):  03-4141-3000, 282 Jalan Ampang; 
Prince Court Medical Center:  03-2160-0000, at the corner of Jalan Tun Razak and Jalan Kia Peng.

CDC Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

For additional health guidance, please visit the CDC at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/malaysia.htm

Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim of Crime

Crimes/Scams

A large number of U.S. citizens are victims of scams originating in Malaysia. Scammers and confidence artists contact U.S. citizens through the Internet, especially Christian-focused dating websites. Scammers pose as U.S. citizens who have unexpectedly experienced a medical, legal, financial, or other type of “emergency” and who ask the U.S. citizen in the United States to send money to Malaysia. Co-conspirators pose as “lawyers” or medical professionals to verify the story and the supposed urgent need for cash. We strongly urge U.S. citizens in the United States to be very cautious about sending money to people they have not met in person and who claim to be U.S. citizens in trouble in Malaysia. If you are or you know a person outside Malaysia who has been scammed and would like to make a formal complaint, the nearest Malaysian Embassy or Consulate will accept complaints (in person or via e-mail) and transmit to the police for follow-up.

Areas to be Avoided and Best Security Practices

While most streets are safe to walk, downtown areas around bars and discos tend to become populated with less desirable people after midnight. If possible, avoid these areas after midnight. Prostitution is illegal but is still prevalent. There are reports of foreigners being drugged and robbed after enlisting the services of a prostitute. 

To avoid becoming the victim of a purse snatching, be alert and aware of your surroundings. Pedestrians should walk facing traffic and keep a close eye on all vehicular traffic, particularly motorcycles. If possible, try to walk on the sidewalk away from the curb. Avoid poorly lit streets, shortcuts, and narrow alleys. Purses or shoulder bags should be closed and tucked under the arm. Do not wrap the strap around your arm or shoulder. People have been injured by being pulled to the ground by their purse straps as the robbers speed off. If your purse or bag is snatched, immediately let go of it. Do not struggle with the attacker. Remain calm until the incident is over and report the incident as soon as possible to the police. 

If you are driving, do not leave purses or other valuable in easy-to-reach areas such as the passenger seat. Instead, leave them on the floor or otherwise hidden from view. In short, do not leave any valuables in the vehicle unattended. Drivers should be vigilant for motorbikes, especially when turning or making a lane change. Drivers are advised to avoid confrontational behavior, especially when involved in vehicular collisions. 

Travelers should closely safeguard their credit card information. Travelers should watch retailers closely to ensure their credit card information is not “skimmed” and should report any issues to the local police. If you use a credit card, you are advised to check your account information frequently for fraudulent charges. Individuals should only use ATMs in well-lit, safe locations.

Valuables should not be left unattended and should be locked up in the hotel safe.

U.S. Embassy/Consulate Location and Contact Information 

Embassy/Consulate Address and Hours of Operation 

Embassy of the United States Kuala Lumpur 
376 Jalan Tun Razak 
50400 Kuala Lumpur 

The American Citizens Services section’s working hours are M-F 9:00 am to 11:00 am -- Calls are taken from 8:00 am to 12:00 noon and between  2:00 pm and 4:00 pm each business day, except Wednesdays. 

Embassy/Consulate Contact Numbers

Malaysia Embassy main line: +60 3 2168-5000
American Citizen Services: +60 3 2168-4997, Email: klacs@state.gov
Post One: +60 3 2168-4959

Routine public inquiries from American citizens about security and safety in Malaysia should be directed to the American Citizens Services (ACS) section of the U.S. Embassy during normal business hours. For emergencies outside of normal business hours, call the U.S. Embassy main line and listen to the recorded instructions.

OSAC Country Council Information

Kuala Lumpur Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) Country Council in Malaysia is made up of well over 100 members. Country Council meetings are organized by the Regional Security Office (RSO) and are held quarterly. The Kuala Lumpur Country Council chapter has three Steering Committee Members, 10 Standing Committee Members, and over 80 full time members. The Country Council point-of-contact within the Regional Security Office is Mr. Timothy Leeds, Regional Security Officer: + (603) 2168-5111, email: KLRSO@state.gov.