x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Scam artists use Pakistan floods to exploit kindness

Criminals are taking advantage of the Pakistan flooding and duping people out of thousands of rials, Oman's official charity organisation has warned.

MUSCAT // Criminals are taking advantage of the Pakistan flooding and duping people out of thousands of rials, Oman's official charity organisation has warned. Police have arrested more than a dozen people as part of an initiative to fight fund-raising scams, said a spokesman of the state-run Oman Charitable Organisation (OCO) on Saturday.

There are scam artists "who use the mosques, visit houses and even offices to collect money in the name of Pakistan's flood victims only to pocket the cash for themselves", said Mohammed al Ahmadi, the manager of OCO. "We don't know how much they have already collected, but it must be thousands of rials since the Pakistani floods started. We urge all donors to send the money to OCO or the government-approved charities like the Red Crescent," Mr Ahmadi said.

Fourteen people have been arrested in Muscat in the past six weeks who claimed to represent charity organisations that were later proved to be bogus, a police spokesman said. "All of them were arrested after citizens and residents called the police. They exploit a natural disaster that has wrecked the lives of millions by taking advantage of the generosity of people," the police spokesman said. Worshippers in Muscat said that scam artists target mosques after the Ramadan taraweh prayers. They claim they represent charities in Pakistan, but have no identification to prove their authenticity.

"Many worshippers leaving the mosque give money generously without a question to a man who squats on the doorway. There will be a different man each evening but hastily leaves when you ask for his identification," said Abdulahadi al Aboudi, a regular worshipper of a mosque in Muscat. Abdulrahim al Raisi, 36, a banker, estimated such conmen make more than 50 rials a day during Ramadan. "Most people drop between half a rial to one and a typical mosque turnout during taraweh prayers is about 100 worshippers every evening. It is a windfall for them and they use the disaster of their home country to make money," Mr al Raisi said.

A Pakistani diplomat in Muscat said he was aware that some Pakistanis were involved in the scam. He said his embassy was in contact with the police to help with the clampdown. Some residents say they receive text messages urging them to donate money directly into bank accounts. "A friend of mine trusts these people and really donated money into these text message bank accounts. Not me because I know it is a scam," Subait al Raham, 49, a surveyor, said.

Women in veils also dupe residents. They knock on doors or approach cars at the automated bank machines. "Almost every day this Ramadan we get women in abayas and veils coming to our house or our car while out shopping with certificates showing that they represent a charity in Pakistan and are authorised to collect money," said Sabiha Khan, a Pakistani resident in Muscat. Mr Ahamadi urged donors to drop donations other than money at shopping malls for the flood victims to avoid cash getting into the wrong hands.

"The victims in Pakistan also need blankets and items of clothing which we recommend people drop in shopping malls if you are not sure about who to give the cash," he said. @Email:salshaibany@thenational.ae