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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 22 July 2018

UAE's astronomy lovers fall victim to scams by fake star-naming companies

Fake websites are offering customers the opportunity to purchase rights to name stars for up to six years at a time at a cost of Dh450 to Dh750

Hasan Al Hariri, chief executive of Dubai Astronomy Group, has warned against scams that sell people rights to name stars. Lee Hoagland / The National
Hasan Al Hariri, chief executive of Dubai Astronomy Group, has warned against scams that sell people rights to name stars. Lee Hoagland / The National

Astronomy lovers across the UAE are being duped out of hundreds of dirhams by fake companies selling the rights to name stars and purchase land on planets.

Websites offering customers the opportunity to purchase rights to name stars for up to six years at a time at a cost of Dh450 to Dh750 are merely scamming people out of their hard-earned cash, said Hasan Al Hariri, chief executive of Dubai Astronomy Group.

Such illegal services, he said, are tantamount to fraud.

“A number of people, from the UAE and beyond, have fallen victim to such an illegal activity.

“They are fooled into believing that a star has been re-named after their loved one or that they have bought land in space, especially after being sent a document appearing to register the star in their name and a certificate wrapped in a beautiful package,” Mr Al Hariri said.

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One such victim was a Lebanese woman who purchased a star from a dubious website as a gift for her husband.

“She came to the centre claiming that she bought the star and wants to see it. I explained to her that stars are owned by no one,” said Mr Al Hariri.

“The star can’t be seen even with the naked eye. She needed a telescope to observe it. I told her that she had been scammed.” But the woman was undeterred, Mr Al Hariri said.

She is one of many who have inundated the centre with requests to see their purchased stars, armed with fake certificates as proof.

Mr Al Hariri said the centre had also been targeted by individuals offering to assist them with the sale of stars and plots of land in space.

“We were approached by groups who wanted to sell land in space. They asked whether their customers can view their stars at our centre. We rejected their request and refused to be part of such a practice,” said Mr Al Hariri.

He called on astronomy enthusiasts to do their research on a company before making any purchases, adding that the onus was on centres such as his to raise awareness about such illegal practices.

He said the fraudulent trade first began in the UAE about four years ago.

“Those groups came on strong a few years ago but were stopped by the Ministry of Economy. Now they have moved their services online.

“This practice is a business to just collect money. Who owns the space to be selling or renting parts of it?”