Phone scam
In this era of AI (artificial intelligence), there will be undoubtedly many more novel and convincing ways for fraudsters to pull the wool over the eyes of their victims Image Credit: Gulf News

Remember the old saying of ‘There’s a sucker born every minute’? Well, a new breed of scammers and fraudsters have taken it to heart and added some modern-day twists to relieve you of your hard-worked earnings and wealth.

In days gone by, fraudsters primarily relied on emails and you would not be surprised to find an email from someone claiming to be the wife or son of some African dictator or Asian oligarch who has had to fortune to inherit millions and would now like to share some of it with you. All you had to do was to send your personal details such as your passport number, bank account details, and some other information and the money would soon be transferred into your account.

The figures were dazzling and tempting and unfortunately many have been reported as being taken in by these con artists. There was little recourse for the victims to claim their money back as the crooks and the money had long disappeared. And yet people continued to fall for it.

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Modern-day twists to emails have taken new dimensions. On a trip to a GCC country a while back, I received a call on the local SIM I had purchased for the duration of my trip. The call was purportedly from the company issuing the chip and the joyous voice on the other end announced that my phone number was the lucky recipient of 2 million Dirhams but to claim it I had to quickly purchase a 500 Dirham card and after scratching the back of the card for the recharge number, I was to call back and provide the caller with the number. But I had to be quick if I was to claim the prize.

It was shopping festival season during my visit and there were scores of news items of massive prizes being won at various venues and for a minute or two I was almost taken in, so convincing was the message. But my hesitation to respond and the urgency of the caller’s repeated pleas alerted me to hold off and not pursue the matter. It also bolstered my suspicions more when the caller was unwilling to provide the company phone number for me to verify the matter.

Careful about personal information

In Saudi Arabia, fraudsters have also taken to believing suckers are abound and are continuously figuring out novel ways to defraud people. One way was to use the official cover of the work of government agencies to get to your personal information and subsequently to what you own.

Last year the Ministry of Economy and Planning conducted an extensive nationwide census to capture real-time numbers on the total population. They would send census information-seeking agents to your door asking all pertinent questions related to members of your household. All their staff had prominent badges displayed on their chests to authenticate their presence.

But with the census over, the crooks began first by calling individuals over the phone claiming they were representatives of the Ministry and were conducting a follow and needed more information. As the census was still fresh in the minds of the residents, some freely gave away information over the phone only to discover soon after that their bank accounts had been wiped out.

Another scam that a couple of young men have alerted me to is receiving a picture of a fine-looking young lady who could be a centrefold, promising all kinds of massage services and such. All the potential customer had to do was make an appointment and put 500 riyals into an Apple Pay account before the visit. While these two young men were not taken in by the solicitation, I am sure others were and were soon to be disappointed.

A more recent scam concerned homeowners noticing a sticker from the water company plastered over the water metre. It was an official-looking one and required the owner to call the number on the placard to clear the matter up before the water supply would be discontinued. The only giveaway was that the toll-free number was crossed out and a mobile number was written on the card. In this age of digitisation, sometimes all a crook had to do was receive a return call from his victim and hack into his phone for all the necessary information.

In this era of AI (artificial intelligence), there will be undoubtedly many more novel and convincing ways for fraudsters to pull the wool over the eyes of their victims. It is best to follow the adage that you don’t get something for nothing, and nothing is for free.

Everything has a price and someone’s momentary lapse of judgement can lead to ruin. Be aware.

— Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi sociopolitical commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena