x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

E-mail scams, VAT refunds and working wives

Have a problem? Been treated unfairly? Our consumer advocate is on the case for you.

Some days back I received an e-mail from someone in Yahoo! headquarters in Amsterdam notifying me that I've won more than US$200,000 (Dh734,184) after being picked randomly among other Yahoo customers. The e-mail contained the winning serial number, and I was given a window of one week to claim my prize by forwarding some personal details. The e-mail address was through Hotmail and seemed to originate from Jakarta, Indonesia. After I forwarded the details, I received another e-mail with a winner's certificate stating that my options were: claim the prize personally in Jakarta, have it forwarded to me by courier or request a bank-to bank-telegraphic transfer. I have to cover all expenses myself and they cannot be paid out of the winnings. Is this a real prize or spam?

LS Dubai Yahoo!'s head office is actually in California. Moreover, this is a well-known scam that has been doing the rounds for a while. It's known as an "advance fee fraud", and the e-mail is usually from a free-mail address, which a reputable company would not use. The usual practice is that when someone replies to the hundreds of thousands of e-mails that are sent out, the scammers ask that money be sent to them, usually by a method such as Western Union, as that is hard to trace. But that's the last time the correspondent will ever hear from them. I have warned readers about e-mail scams before, but there always seems to be more of them sent out, with many of them currently advising people of lottery wins. You cannot win a lottery without having entered it, and there is no logic to having to pay to receive a so-called prize.

I recently attempted to purchase flights from Etihad Airways online, but due to problems with the site I was forced to complete my booking via the telephone using my Barclays Visa debit card. Etihad Airways mistakenly charged me four times and refunded me three times to allow payment for the flights. However, Barclays took its commission charge and rate on the transaction, so I am down nearly £40 (Dh243) on each of the three refunds. Etihad and Barclays refuse to refund the money, both blaming each other. I can understand that Etihad Airways has refunded the same amount they took and that Barclays didn't make the error, but it seems unfair that I am more than £100 out of pocket for something which was not my fault.

VB Abu Dhabi I made contact with Etihad, and following a brief investigation they have offered to reimburse VB for the additional costs incurred. A spokesperson has advised "once she has sent us the relevant bank statements, detailing the debits and credits to her account, we will process the refund immediately. We apologise for any inconvenience caused". VB will be receiving a refund of £117. I came into Dubai a month back, under the sponsorship of my husband, who is employed here. We hold Indian passports. The initial residence visa granted was for a month, and the category was "housewife". After getting my medical done, we applied for the residence visa to be stamped on my passport, and it has come back stating: "housewife - not allowed to work". I'm devastated, as I had not anticipated this complication, and had already started contacting people about job vacancies. What can we do to change this status? I have friends whose residence visas state "housewife", but not "housewife - not allowed to work".

GK Dubai You may take up employment provided your husband provides you with a No Objection Certificate, which is essentially a letter addressed to your future employer. This document must simply say that he has no objection to you taking up employment. Then, you are on equal footing with anyone who does not have the same restriction written in their passport. In some circumstances, this may even give you an advantage, as your prospective employer will not have to provide you with a residence visa and will only need to organise and pay for your Labour Card.

I have heard that if you aren't resident in the UK, but buy goods while there to take with you when you return to the UAE, that it's possible to reclaim the value-added tax (VAT). Is this correct, and if so, how do you go about it? TG Abu Dhabi The VAT retail export scheme allows people to claim a refund on most items purchased from participating shops, provided they are to be taken outside of the European Community. The scheme is voluntary, and shops do not have to offer the discount. You should find, however, that the major chains and department stores have taken on the scheme. But you should always double check before purchasing. To qualify, you must be an overseas visitor, not domiciled in the UK, or non-resident, for tax purposes. When you buy the goods the retailer will ask you to provide proof that you are eligible to use the scheme, so you would need to show your passport. You will then be asked to complete a refund form, which will be either an official customs form - called the VAT 407 - or a VAT retail export scheme invoice. You must have one of these documents (receipts alone are not acceptable), and you must complete all paperwork before you leave. When leaving the UK you must present your goods and the refund form to UK Customs at the airport. Items that will be checked in as hold baggage must be produced to customs before you check in your baggage. After your VAT refund form has been certified by customs, you can post it back to the retailer to arrange payment of your refund, post it to a commercial refund company to arrange payment of your refund or hand your form to a refund booth to arrange immediate payment - as previously agreed with the retailer. An administration fee may be charged.

Keren Bobker is an independent financial adviser with Holborn Assets in Dubai. She can be reached at keren@holbornassets.com