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Malaysia 2015 Crime and Safety Report

East Asia & Pacific > Malaysia

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime Rating: High

Crime Threats

The overall crime rate is designated as high for Malaysia. Petty crime against expatriates is fairly common, while violent crime remains relatively uncommon. There has been a noticeable increase in crime in Kuala Lumpur in 2014, including several reported assaults and robberies, sometimes involving weapons. Petty theft, particularly purse snatching and pickpocketing, and residential burglaries are the most common crimes committed against foreigners. Other types of non-violent criminal activity include credit card fraud and automobile theft. 

In most purse snatching incidents, two thieves on a motorcycle speed up from behind a victim, and the passenger on the back snatches a purse, handbag, or cellular phone. Thieves have also conducted snatch thefts while leaning out of the passenger side of moving vehicles. Increasingly, large groups of robbers have physically confronted victims. These types of thefts can occur at all hours and often in front of large groups of witnesses, even in upscale neighborhoods frequented by expatriates. Women walking by themselves or with small children are the most common targets, but men walking or jogging alone have also been targeted. Victims have been injured and even killed after falling and being dragged by thieves in cars or on motorcycles. More recently, thieves carrying knives have slashed and cut the victim in order to shock him/her into immediately releasing valuables.

Taxi drivers in downtown Kuala Lumpur have been involved in recent incidents of violent crime perpetrated against foreign tourists and local residents. A useful app, “My Teksi,” allows smart phone users to book on-line. 

Credit card fraud continues to be a problem. Unauthorized charges may not show up on a credit card account for several months (and can appear in amounts of U.S.$10,000 or more). Employees in retail stores 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 generally safe as long as the ATMs are associated with reputable Malaysian or international banks.

Residential break-ins do occur and are becoming more frequent in single family homes; these break-ins generally do not result in confrontations or injuries to the occupants. While uncommon, some burglars have entered when occupants were home, tied the residents up, and threatened them with weapons. In 2013, a U.S. citizen was killed in an apparent home burglary. 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 typically have adequate security and as a result experience a low incidence of crime.

Areas of Concern

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 late at night. Prostitution is illegal but is prevalent. There are reports of foreigners being drugged and robbed after enlisting the services of a prostitute.

Due to continuing security concerns, U.S. government employees under Chief of Mission authority are prohibited from travelling to the coastal regions of eastern Sabah without prior permission from the Regional Security Office (RSO) and the Ambassador. This area includes: Lahad Datu, Semporna, and the resort islands of Selingan, Lankayan, Mabul, Pom Pom, Kapalai, Ligitan, Sipadan, and Mataking. The travel restrictions also apply to Beluran District, as well as resorts along the Kinabatangan River (Sukau District) and Sabahan River (Kunak District). Employees traveling only to Sandakan and Tawau in these districts do not require prior authorization. 

U.S. citizens are advised against travel to coastal resorts and outlying islands in Eastern Sabah from Kudat to Tawau as well as resorts along the Kinabatangan River. U.S. citizens are also advised against overnight stays in Lahad Datu. Road travel to the Tabin Wildlife Reserve and Danum Valley should be arranged through reputable travel companies and take place during daylight hours.

The government has designated the entire eastern portion of Sabah (extending from the town of Kudat in the north to Tawau district near the border of Indonesia) as the Eastern Sabah Security Zone, and established the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM) to coordinate security forces' activity. There is a significant police and army presence in the area, and road checkpoints have increased. The government has also enhanced efforts to patrol its maritime border with the Philippines, yet the area’s size and remoteness continue to make the region vulnerable to future security incidents. Malaysian law enforcement officials have enacted land and water-based curfews in the coastal areas of eastern Sabah. Curfew schedules and the affected areas are subject to frequent change; upon arrival to the eastern Sabah region, travelers should check local media or ask local police for the most recent curfew information.

Overall Road Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions 

You may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the U.S. The information below concerning Malaysia is for general reference only and may vary based on location or circumstance.

Traffic moves on the left side of the road, and most vehicles are right-hand drive. Motorcyclists attempt to circumvent traffic blockage by weaving in/out of traffic, temporarily using vacant on-coming traffic lanes, and running through red lights. This poses a hazard for both drivers and pedestrians. Drivers should use turn signals well in advance of turning to alert motorcycles of their intent. 

By law, passengers must use front and back seat belts and are prohibited from using their cell phones while driving unless it is hands-free. Turning left at a red light is not legal unless otherwise marked. Laws against drinking and driving are strictly enforced and carry serious penalties. Police operate sobriety checkpoints in many entertainment districts frequented by expatriates. At these checkpoints, all drivers must submit to alcohol breath tests. Those who fail breath tests will be arrested.

Traffic is heavy during the morning and afternoon rush hours and slows down considerably when it rains. Monsoonal rains can quickly flood roads located in low-lying areas. Bottlenecks are common in major cities, as infrastructure development has not kept pace with the proliferation of motorized vehicles. Multi-lane highways often merge into narrow two-lane roads in the center of town and cause added congestion. Many streets are narrow and winding.

Public Transportation Conditions

There have been fatal and other serious accidents involving long-distance tour buses, particularly at night or in adverse weather conditions. If you plan to travel by bus, choose a reputable company and avoid overnight routes.

Taxis are not permitted to stop to pick up additional passengers. Some drivers, particularly in tourist areas, refuse to use the meter despite a law requiring that they do so. Any problems with taxis should be reported immediately to the Land Public Transportation Commission (Suruhanjaya Pengangkutan Awam Darat or “SPAD”) via tel: +6180-088-7723, Email: aduan@spad.gov.my, or the web: www.spad.gov.my. 

Other Travel Conditions

Reports of late-night road rage incidents, especially after midnight, are rising. If you drive, avoid confrontational behavior if you are involved in an accident. If you are threatened, leave the scene and file a report with the local police within 24 hours.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Since 1969, political violence has been almost non-existent.  

Political Violence Rating: Low

Civil Unrest

Public demonstrations are occurring more frequently in Kuala Lumpur and are sometimes arranged at short-notice via social media. There is usually a police presence, although “illegal” protests occur occasionally. 

Over the last five years, Malaysia has experienced an increased number of demonstrations over political divisions, racial/religious tensions, and international developments (such as U.S. policies in the Middle East). While most protests in Malaysia are peaceful, the U.S. Embassy advises you to exercise caution and to be aware of your surroundings, particularly around large crowds or gatherings. Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence with little/no warning. You should avoid areas that may be targeted for demonstrations and exercise caution if within the vicinity of any demonstrations or large gatherings. You should monitor local media to keep updated with the latest information about demonstrations and areas to avoid. Local law prohibits non-Malaysians from participating in public protests.

Terrorism Rating: Medium

The Department of State remains concerned about the possibility of terrorist attacks against U.S. citizens in Southeast Asia. Extremist groups in the region have demonstrated the capability to carry out attacks in locations where Westerners congregate, and these groups do not distinguish between civilian and official targets. 

The U.S. government has designated two such groups, Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), as Foreign Terrorist Organizations. JI is linked to al-Qai’da and other regional terrorist groups and has cells operating throughout the region. Since April 2014, authorities have arrested more than 50 supporters of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorist group, including many individuals who planned to fight in Syria and Iraq.

An incursion into the state of Sabah in February-March 2013 by several hundred gunmen from the southern Philippines asserting a territorial claim was characterized by the Malaysian government as terrorism, and dozens of suspects are on trial on charges of waging war and other national security offenses.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Malaysia’s location makes it less susceptible to earthquakes and tsunamis than other countries in Southeast Asia. 

The tropical monsoon season lasts from November-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 Crimes

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

Kidnapping Threats

U.S. citizens should consider the risks associated with travel to coastal eastern Sabah (Eastern Malaysia) because of the threat of kidnappings-for-ransom and violence from both terrorist and criminal groups. The requirement for U.S. government employees to receive permission before traveling to these areas indicates a strong concern over safety, given recent kidnappings of foreign tourists in the region. 

In July 2014, at a diving resort on Mabul Island, armed men killed a Royal Malaysia Police (RMP) officer and kidnapped another officer. Also in June 2014, a Philippine and a Malaysian national were kidnapped from a fish farm in Kunak, 37 miles from Lahad Datu. In April 2014, a foreign tourist and a hotel employee were kidnapped by armed men from a water village-style resort a short distance off the coast near Semporna. In November 2013, a foreign tourist was killed and his spouse was abducted from a resort on Pom Pom Island. In August 2013, Malaysian officials reported an aborted attempt by an armed Filipino group to kidnap foreign tourists from the resort island of Mabul.

In addition to incursions on coastal or island resort islands themselves, criminal or terrorist groups may attempt to intercept boats ferrying tourists from the mainland to resort islands. In February 2013, armed intruders from the Sulu archipelago, who entered the area by sea from the southern Philippines, were involved in a violent confrontation with Malaysian security forces in Lahad Datu district and in the Seminul water village, located in Semporna.

Police Response

The Royal Malaysian Police (RMP) is a national police force that is well trained and equipped. The RMP 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 U.S. citizens in general. With that in mind, the RMP is sometimes limited in their effectiveness in investigations. 

In tourist areas (Bukit Bintang, Petaling Street (Chinatown), Sri Hartamas and Bangsar in Kuala Lumpur, and the main square in Malacca), the police have established small "Tourist Police” stations manned by personnel familiar with helping visitors to Malaysia. 

Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the U.S.. 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. Malaysia also actively enforces immigration regulations and may levy high fines or incarcerate foreigners with prolonged overstays. The court system is typically very slow, and there are often lengthy delays in trials.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

The RMP do not routinely inform the U.S. Embassy of the arrest of private U.S. citizens. If a U.S. citizen encounters an incidence of police detention or harassment, the Consular Affairs, American Citizen Services Section at the U.S. Embassy should be notified immediately.

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

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

Medical Emergencies

Medical facilities and services are adequate in the larger cities, where you can find Western-trained doctors. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services although major credit cards are acceptable at some hospitals in larger cities. Psychological and psychiatric medical and counseling services are limited. 

Kuala Lumpur 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. 

Malaysian ambulance attendants do not have training equivalent to U.S. standards. Callers to Malaysia's "999" emergency number (equivalent to dialing 911 in the U.S.) are connected to the Red Crescent (a member of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies), and patients are directed to whichever hospital the dispatcher chooses. Long-term travelers with known health problems are advised to investigate private ambulance services in the area and provide family and close contacts with the direct telephone number(s) of the services they prefer. If ambulance transport is required, two recommended services are: St. John Ambulance: 03-9285-5294 or Red Crescent Ambulance: 03-4257-8726.

Contact Information for Suggested Local Hospitals and Clinics:

The U.S. Embassy can provide a list of English-speaking doctors and hospitals upon request.

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

Recommended Insurance Posture

Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the U.S. can cost thousands of dollars.

CDC Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

Dengue fever is endemic, and cases tend to rise during the rainy seasons. The Malaysian Ministry of Health reported 108,000 cases in 2014 alone (a 150 percent increase from 2013 reports). While an annual spike in dengue after the rainy season is common, it is always important to be aware of the possibility of dengue and the ways it can be prevented. U.S. citizens are encouraged to be vigilant, destroy mosquito breeding areas, and use mosquito repellant.

Air quality is acceptable most of the time.However, when Malaysia and nearby countries burn vegetation, especially from March-June and during September and October, air quality can become unhealthy, particularly for those with existing health conditions. Children, older adults, and people with risk factors for respiratory illness are advised to avoid outdoor activities and wear N95 respirators during periods of increased air pollution.

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

Scams

U.S. citizens and businesses continue to be the victims of scams originating in Malaysia. Scammers and confidence artists contact U.S. citizens through the telephone and Internet, including through online dating sites. Scammers almost always pose as U.S. citizens who have unexpectedly experienced a medical, legal, or financial “emergency” in Malaysia and who ask the U.S. citizen in the U.S. to send money quickly. Co-conspirators pose as Malaysian “lawyers” or medical professionals to verify the story and the supposed urgent need for cash. There have also been cases of U.S. businesses being defrauded by investment scams. The Embassy strongly encourages U.S. citizens 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 become the victim of a scam and wish to make a formal complaint, please report it to the nearest Malaysian embassy or consulate in the United States, who will accept it (in person or via e-mail) and transmit to the Malaysian police for follow-up. You can also report the crime to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (www.IC3.gov). Resources on how to identify, protect yourself, and report on business and financial fraud can be found in the Department of State's publication, International Financial Scams. Additional resources can be found at StopFraud.gov (a service of the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force) and from the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

Situational Awareness Best Practices 

To avoid becoming the victim of a purse snatching, be alert and aware of your surroundings. Avoid extended conversations on mobile devices while walking in the city, which distracts one’s attention away from a potentially threatening situation. Pedestrians should walk facing traffic and keep a close eye on all vehicular traffic, particularly motorcycles. If possible, try to walk on the part of the sidewalk that is away from the curb. Avoid poorly lit streets, shortcuts, and narrow alleys, but be aware that attacks may occur anywhere. Purses or shoulder bags should be closed and tucked under the arm. Fasten any closures on the bag. Do not wrap the strap around your arm or shoulder. People have been injured or killed by being pulled to the ground by their purse straps as the thieves sped off. If your purse or bag is snatched, report the incident as soon as possible to the police.

The targets of smash-and-grab robberies are typically motorists who are stuck in traffic or stopped at a light. The usual scenario is that a pair of thieves on a motorcycle identifies a car with a lone passenger and with valuables visible. The thieves use a hammer or crowbar to smash the window of the car, grab the bag, and speed off. If the motorist’s windows are already open, the motorcyclists simply reach in and take bags off the seat of the car. You can prevent these crimes by keeping valuables out of sight while driving or removing them from the car (including from the trunk) when parked. GPS monitors should not be left on the windshield or dashboard.

While traveling, you should closely safeguard your credit card numbers at all times and use them only at reputable establishments. Unauthorized charges may not show on a credit card account for several months, and can unexpectedly appear in amounts of $5,000 or more. Travelers are advised to watch retailers closely and any “under the table” transactions should be reported to the local police. A police report is necessary for the embassy to help victims follow-up on incidents of crime. If you must use a credit card, you should check your account information frequently for fraudulent charges. ATM cards are safer as long as the machines you use are associated with reputable Malaysian banks.

Travelers should not buy counterfeit or pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the U.S., you are encouraging criminal activity if you buy them.

Single women travelers are advised to book taxis in downtown shopping areas by phone, rather than hail taxis from the street, particularly after dark. Before entering the taxi, passengers are advised to confirm that there is a license (with a photo) on the dashboard or the seatback, and that the driver matches the photo.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information 

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation 

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

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

Embassy Contact Numbers 

Main Line: +60-3-2168-5000
American Citizen Services: +60-3-2168-4997, Email: klacs@state.gov
Marine Post One (24-hours): +60-3-2168-4959
Regional Security Office: +60-3-2168-5111, Email: KLRSO@state.gov
Website:

Embassy Guidance

Routine public inquiries from American citizens about security and safety in Malaysia should be directed to the American Citizens Services 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.

Travelers should consult the Department’s Country Specific Information Sheet for updated information concerning travel to Malaysia, particularly to the coastal areas of eastern Sabah and southern Thailand. Travelers should also be aware of the Department's periodic Worldwide Cautions re-emphasizing that U.S. citizens abroad may be targets of terrorist actions. The Country Specific Information Sheet and Public Announcements are available on the Department website at http://www.travel.state.gov.

OSAC Country Council Information

The Kuala Lumpur Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) Country Council consists of well over 100 members. Country Council meetings are organized by the Regional Security Office (RSO) and are held quarterly. The Country Council chapter has three Steering Committee Members, seven Standing Committee Members, and over 80 full time members. The Kuala Lumpur Country Council point of contact within the Regional Security Office is Bernard J. Green, Regional Security Officer: +60-3-2168-5111, Email: KLRSO@state.gov. To reach OSAC’s East Asia Pacific team, please email OSACEAP@state.gov.