A thief hacked into a Dubai man's credit card, and used it fraudulently to pay Abu Dhabi police fines. Image Credit: Supplied


When my wife received a distressed call last weekend from my sister in New York, asking about my welfare and if she (my wife) has established contacts with me in Greece, it automatically raised an alarm bell at home. I was watching a movie in the living room – in Dubai.

“Did he receive the money, I’ve just sent, in Greece?” she asked.

“What? Why did you send money in Greece when he is here? Talk to him,” she looked at me, puzzled and handed over the phone to me.

“Why are you sending money to me in Greece when I am sitting here in Dubai?” I inquired.

“I got your email saying that you have been robbed in Greece, lost your phone, passport, ticket... So I quickly remitted $3,800 as your email suggested,” my sister, puzzled, said.

“This is a scam… someone might have hacked my email. I am fine. So, quickly go and get your money back if it has not been collected yet.”

Someone later forwarded the mail to me, which read: “I’m presently in Greece... I was robbed on my way to the hotel and the thieves made away with all my cash, cell, passport and other document, presently I have limited access to internet, I will like you to assist me with a loan of (2,950 EUR = $3,800) to sort-out my hotel bills and to get myself back home...I don’t have a phone where I can be reached... Saifur Rahman.”

My sister has not been exposed to these scams. So, thinking that her brother is in danger, she acted in haste. Family ties have always been a matter of strength in our societies. However, it seems that there are downside risks as well, thanks to the internet. Some guys are cashing in on it.

Half an hour later, my sister confirmed getting back her money.

This was my first brush with cybercrime, although I have received similar mails earlier suggesting someone I know lost everything in Spain, needed help.

This is the latest round of emails going around the globe as faceless and almost traceless cybercriminals have graduated from defrauding people through emails on behalf of wealthy West African widows having piles of cash in need of bank account to transfer her fortune, to congratulating mail recipients on winning $500,000 in a lottery and to send account details.

While most people did not buy the first trick, some might have been tricked in the second lot. However, the latest round might be working with a large number of people.

“Cybercrime is one of the fastest growing areas of crime. More and more criminals are exploiting the speed, convenience and anonymity that modern technologies offer in order to commit a diverse range of criminal activities,” according to Interpol.

Cyber criminals, however, are more active in the corporate world. They have stolen intellectual property from businesses worldwide worth up to $1 trillion in corporate cyber espionage, according to Interpol.

Cybercrime has increased 6 per cent this year compared to last year and 38 per cent compared to 2010, according to a study by Ponemon Institute. The study also revealed a 42 per cent increase in the number of cyber attacks, with organisations experiencing an average of 102 successful attacks per week, compared to 72 attacks per week in 2011.

“Organisations are spending increasing amounts of time, money and energy responding to cyberattacks at levels that will soon become unsustainable,” said Eyad Shihabi, Managing Director, HP Middle East.

The potential playing field for would-be cyber-attackers is more extensive than ever in the region, with IT spend among SMEs in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) set to rise from last year’s outlay of $16.73 billion to $24.48 billion by 2015, according to International Data Corporation.