KARAWANG, Indonesia: Indonesian mother-of-three Aslem was a domestic worker in Dubai when she started wiring cash to a self-professed shaman, believing that he would honour his promise to magically multiply her hard-earned wages.
But she returned home last year penniless and in shock, saying she had been swindled out of her life savings by a trickster who now faces trial for his complex scams, and charges of murdering nine of his victims.
“I have nothing now,” Aslem, 42, told AFP from her cramped, dilapidated house in a remote village in Karawang, West Java.
“I wanted to renovate this small house my parents left me. I wanted to make them happy … I didn’t manage to do that until the day they died.”
In Indonesia, where nearly 10 per cent of the population live below the poverty line, some view shamans as traditional healers.
Aslem is one of several Indonesians who say they were scammed by people claiming to be spiritual figures, promising to turn small investments into immense wealth.
Police say some alleged scammers turn to violence when their victims come looking for their money.
The scams have circulated widely on Indonesian social media.
Just two dozen Facebook posts advertising so-called shaman investment schemes were viewed more than 1.4 million times as of this week, according to AFP Fact Check reporters in Jakarta.
One post, viewed 643,000 times from Apr 8 to May 17, claimed a Muslim sheikh would help people multiply their funds, and that the service did not violate the tenets of Islam.
AFP reporters contacted a WhatsApp number associated with one of the posts and were told to send photos of their identity cards to determine eligibility for the “magic money” scheme.
AFP has a global team of journalists, including in Indonesia, who debunk misinformation as part of Facebook and WhatsApp owner Meta’s third-party fact-checking programme.
After she moved to Dubai in 2016, Aslem said she began talking to a man her friend had recommended, who claimed he was a Javan shaman named Aki Banyu.
Aslem, who now sells snacks from her porch, recalled the first meeting with the man on a 2019 trip home.
The man prepared offerings, chanted a mantra, and promised her money would multiply soon, she said.
She later sent him around 288 million rupiah (US$19,500) after he promised to flip her earnings into eye-watering sums totalling nearly US$2 million, she told AFP.
Police later identified the man as Wowon Erawan, a 60-year-old who they said worked with two partners to trick migrant workers into sending them money.