Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 10 December 2019

Dubai residents warned to be on guard as con artists turn to scare tactics

UAE banks and business leaders have been unknowingly used to swindle victims

Security experts have warned about opening suspicious emails after a spate of phishing scams were reported. istockphoto.com
Security experts have warned about opening suspicious emails after a spate of phishing scams were reported. istockphoto.com

Con artists are using threats and intimidation to cheat UAE residents out of cash, with high-profile business leaders now becoming unwitting pawns in a growing number of scams.

Embassies and banks are among the organisations who have sent out warnings to the public after a worrying spike in financial frauds.

One lawyer in the Emirates said he was being inundated with pleas for help from victims caught out by tricksters.

Barney Almazar, of Gulf Law, is currently aiding 20 Filipinos caught up in a Dh300,000 ponzi scheme and another man who invested into a Dh3 million crowd funding project for a new restaurant that proved to be fake.

He said an additional client handed over more than $6,000 (Dh22,000) to a man she met online who said he needed an urgent cash loan to pay debts.

“This started as a romantic approach, with a woman and a man chatting online to become potential partners,” said Mr Almazar, who offers pro-bono legal advice at the Philippine Embassy and Consulate.

“Usually, a victim will be exploited once. This was different as a whole story had been created behind the scam that convinced the woman to part with her cash.

“A man approached this Filipina claiming he was having problems with his bank account and was willing to give her his bank details.

“If someone is willing to give you this information, it should be a sign there may be a problem.”

When the woman, an engineer in Dubai, went to what she believed to be the man's bank account online, she saw there was about $1 million (Dh3.6m) in his account. Only later was she able to establish the site was bogus.

Providing bank account access is a technique commonly used to win a victim’s trust.

The perpetrator then asks for a loan in a personal wire transfer, in this case via Western Union.

In this case, the conman asked for $3,000 (Dh11,000) as he claimed he was stuck on an oil rig without access to the internet or a bank to withdraw his own money.

“The woman did three separate transfers to this person, who was in actually in Thailand according to Western Union documents we’ve seen,” said Mr Almazar.

“The woman only came to us asking for help after she received threatening messages telling her she was being investigated for money laundering and must pay for a lawyer.

“It was only when we looked into her paperwork she realised she had been ripped off.”

The Philippine Embassy in the Emirates has issued a public advisory notice against more than 30 companies it believes have been illegally soliciting funds from unsuspecting citizens.

Officials issued the notice on social media, encouraging residents to check the validity of any company claiming investment services by first checking the Philippines’ Securities and Exchange Commission website.

Hussain Sajwani, above, said his family and foundation names were being used by fraudsters. Razan Alzayani / The National    
Hussain Sajwani, above, said his family and foundation names were being used by fraudsters. Razan Alzayani / The National    

Last week, the owner of Dubai property developer Damac gave a warning that fraudsters were using his and his foundation's names to try to con people.

Hussain Sajwani urged anyone who was approached to contact the police.

His alert comes amid a rise in financial fraud attempts in the UAE, with residents reporting hoax emails, phone calls and text messages.

In June, UAE residents were warned not to be tricked by a scam in which fraudsters falsely claimed a senior UAE leader was helping people make huge profits from Bitcoin trading.

Other recent cons that have been reported include fake schools offering a degree or diploma in exchange for cash.

“We have looked at three or four of these cases in the past few months, but we think there may be many more,” said Mr Almazar.

“People want quick cash, but if something looks too good to be true, it probably is.

“These criminals are using fear, intimidation, scare tactics and romance to get money out of vulnerable people.”

Banks are also offering advice to customers following several reports of new cyber crime cons.

Emirates NBD bank recently teamed up with Dubai Police to launch the #secureyouraccount campaign aimed at raising public awareness of the importance of cyber security.

It urges the public not to pass on personal details like online or mobile banking account numbers and passwords to anyone claiming to work for a bank.

“With fraudsters developing increasingly sophisticated means of accessing data, human error remains the biggest vulnerability when it comes to fighting cybercrime,” an Emirates NBD spokesperson said.

“These scams aim to manipulate human weaknesses to reveal confidential account-related or personal identity information.

“While bank systems are generally not compromised in these cases, the cyber-attacker gains access to legitimate customer credentials which are used to tap into accounts and steal funds.”

Updated: July 26, 2019 03:03 PM