x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

UAE auction sites boost security to fight fraud

With 4.5 million page views a month, the country's leading portal Dubizzle attempts to arm itself against con artists.

ABU DHABI // The UAE's answers to eBay and Craigslist are tightening their security due to the growing threat to their customers from online criminals. Users of such sites sometimes fall prey to con artists who use techniques such as phishing to defraud them. Phishing is when an email is disguised as an official correspondence from a company asking the recipient to disclose personal bank details including passwords and account numbers.

Other criminals, usually from overseas, simply ask for money to be wired to their accounts to pay for goods that do not exist. Souq.com, a regional online auction website, says it is now holding onto the money involved in all sales conducted through its website until the buyer says he is satisfied. Ronaldo Mouchawa, the site's managing director, said: "This is really helpful as everybody is happy with the sale and knows it is secure."

The website, which sells between 45,000 and 50,000 items a month, is also tackling phishing. "We are putting in new technologies that will deter phishing, measures like sign-in seals that are unique to the users' browser," Mr Mouchawa said. "We are trying to be proactive and we only take sales from the region. We do not allow international sellers on the site. We also have a full-time safety team looking at the best practices in the industry and telling users the dos and don'ts of online shopping."

He noted that such measures were important since it was not only iPods and watches sold on the website, but major items such as flats. "Excluding big items such as cars, boats and apartments, we sell about Dhs12million to Dh15million (US$3.3m-US$4.1m) worth of goods a month online," he said. Last month, Dubizzle.com, a classified advertising website that sells almost anything, relaunched its site and now asks everyone who places an advert for their mobile phone number.

JC Butler, 27, the site's managing partner, said the measure was surprisingly effective against criminal elements outside the UAE. "This deters scammers who don't have a mobile number for the UAE from putting up fake sales items. If they are not in the UAE, it's pointless trying to sell something in the UAE." The site also monitors advertisements to make sure they are legal. Last month, for instance, one was offering two tiger cubs for sale in Deira.

"We saw that within an hour of it being posted and took it down immediately. We remove all pet sales from the website as we feel they should be adopted - and exotic pets like tigers are illegal here so they shouldn't be offered for sale anyway. Usually, if not always, these sorts of ads come from outside the country and ask for money to be wired to an account," said Mr Butler. "The typical scam we get is when there is an advert for a car that was brought back to Britain by the owner only to be told it cannot be registered there. They then ask the person interested in buying it to put some money into their account to cover the shipping costs back to the UAE.

"The money is transferred and the person in Britain is never heard of again." Dubizzle.com, which was launched three years ago, now has about 4.5 million page views per month. Mr Butler said the amount of fraud cases "is miniscule", but the website is constantly trying to educate its users on the dangers of phishing. Its staff regularly remove postings that may lead to another website that is looking for personal information, such as bank account numbers or email addresses.

The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority closely monitors Dubizzle's content, according to Mr Butler. "They are not the wizard behind the curtain, they are actually really cool. We work closely with them and make sure everything is up to par. They are not coming in with a strong hand and trying to shut you down." eharnan@thenational.ae