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Dubai Police urged community members to be cautious of phone scams and remember that banks won’t ask for passcodes or personal information. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Dubai: Fraudsters in the UAE use a variety of tactics to lure unsuspecting victims over the phone, have them share sensitive details, and dupe them for their money.

Although scammers are present across the country, local police take swift action when it comes to the safety and security of UAE citizens and residents.

Taking the bait

Phone scammers will often pretend to be calling from your telecom provider (such as du or Etisalat) or your bank to extract sensitive and confidential information from you. Moreover, unknown callers will pose as representatives from legitimate authorities, such as police, and ask for confidential details claiming they need to update their records.

In a recent case at Dubai Courts, a gang of 12 men have been accused of illegally obtaining money from victims after setting a place in Al Muraqabbat area to make the phone calls to victims. They were caught by Dubai Police after their recent scam went wrong.

Records showed that the Pakistani defendants used to send WhatsApp messages or call their potential victims from an apartment — using 14 mobile phones. In their final scam, the defendants duped a woman out of Dh13,500.

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How it happened

She received a call from one of the defendants posing as a bank representative. He told her that she must update her details to prevent the blocking of her account. She gave him the bank card number for which, the con man said, she would receive the one-time-password (OTP) on her phone. She received the message and passed on the number. The man then claimed that her account was “successfully updated”.

“After five minutes, the bank notified her that a withdrawal of Dh13,500 has been done,” said an Emirati policeman in official records.

She reported the incident to Dubai Police who managed to identify one of the suspects and raided the rented apartment. Dubai Police found the mobile phones with dozens of SIM cards with the defendants. Dubai Court of First Instance sentenced the gang to three months in jail, deportation and a fine of Dh2,000.

Dh45,000 lost in scam

One of Gulf News readers reported a similar incident to Dubai Police after scammers illegally obtained Dh45,000 from her bank account after convincing her to “update” her bank account, by using a programme to send a text message appearing to be from Dubai Police.

These are part of the common scenarios that UAE residents might come across when dealing with phone scammers. Fraudsters are also sending messages via WhatsApp or social media to target victims.

According to Dubai Police, around 8,000 phone numbers used by scammers have been blocked last year. Most of these numbers were bought through stolen or fake documents to avoid being arrested.

Raising awareness

Dubai Police launched many campaigns to raise awareness among the public about fake calls and tricks people use to extort money. Colonel Saeed Al Hajiri, director of Cyber-Crimes Department at Dubai Police, said that despite law enforcement teams cracking down on scammers, such scams can be effectively dealt with only when people are aware and do not fall prey to them.

“Dubai Police launched the E-Crime platform to facilitate reporting such crimes. With the rapid development of technology, the force took proactive measures to curb the phone scams,” Col Al Hajri said.

“It is hard to track the crime if the scammers committing their crimes from outside the country. We are keen on the awareness of the community members not to fall prey to fraud.”

Prison and fines

According to Article 33 of UAE Federal Law, the fraud penalty is maximum two years imprisonment and a fine up to Dh20,000.

Dubai Police urged community members to be cautious and remember that banks won’t ask for passcodes or personal information. In 2020, UAE Banks Federation, the Central Bank, Abu Dhabi Police and Dubai Police announced the launch of UAE’s first national fraud awareness campaign. The joint initiative aims to educate and protect consumers from financial cybercrime and fraud, particularly in light of the increased use of digital banking services during the pandemic.

Common tactics

Callers from unknown numbers threatening to arrest you or block your accounts if you don’t answer their questions and provide your personal details.

Scammers claiming to be from the government, banks, or hospitals and clinics, will ask you to confirm your personal details, saying they need to check or update their records.

SMS or WhatsApp messages from unknown numbers claiming they’re from telecom providers or UAE Central Bank with a request to contact them through a mobile phone number.

How to report a scam

Officials have urged victims to call their banks immediately once they suspect a scam, so that their bank accounts can be frozen to prevent withdrawal of money, before reporting the incident to Dubai Police.

Dubai victims can call 901 to get full support and guidance on what to do.

Victims can use Smart Police Stations (SPS) across the emirate to report the crime or lodge a complaint via E-Crime platform.

Dubai Police will ask the victim to get a bank statement and any other proof of the scam (and carry the Emirates ID) to open a case.