Abu Dhabi Cybercrime
Abu Dhabi Police officials during a media briefing on Monday urge greater vigilance against cybercrimes. Image Credit: ADP

Abu Dhabi: Abu Dhabi Police have returned Dh21 million worth of funds over the last seven months to victims of phone scams and online fraud, officials said on Monday.

A total of 1,740 cases of online fraud and cybercrime were reported to authorities in the UAE over this period, said Major Mohammed Al Aryani, head of anti-fraud at Abu Dhabi Police’s Criminal Investigations Directorate.

“While scammers and cyber criminals are still continuing to use novel ways to dupe victims, the Abu Dhabi Police is now coordinating closely with banks to avert these crimes. We were able to stop cyber fraud in 80 to 90 per cent of cases, ever since we began coordinating our efforts with banks and launched a dedicated team in August 2021 to handle these crimes. What we need now is for the community to be more aware and vigilant. The number of cases has increased rampantly, here and globally too, because of the lack of awareness,” Maj Al Aryani said.

More awareness needed

He was speaking on the sidelines of a media briefing that called for greater vigilance against cybercrime. Officials said that many expats have been targeted in these attacks because they may not be aware of the seriousness of cybercrimes, or simply because they may not know how to report incidents to the authorities.

“We would like anyone who has been a victim, or inadvertently shared confidential information, to immediately call their banks in order to stop the fund transfer, or to block their cards and accounts. They should then also inform the Abu Dhabi Police’s ‘Aman’ service so that we can take any action required, and additionally prevent other such instances by the same individuals or groups.”

Report incident immediately

Time is of the essence when reporting a cybercrime. Major Al Aryani said the majority of cases in which funds could not be retrieved were a result of delayed reporting.

“We have had victims report the incident a week or a month later. This makes it difficult to retrieve stolen funds,” he said, adding that a large number of cybercriminals and fraudsters operate from abroad.

Common scams

In addition, fraudsters are also adept at devising new methods to dupe victims.

One of the most common methods reported in the UAE involves a caller who claims to belong to a government authority, and who claims that some of the victim’s information on record needs to be updated. The caller initially shares accurate information about the victim to establish trust. The scammer then requests a one-time password received on the victim’s phone to complete a transaction. Once the victim shares the password, funds are transferred out of the victim’s account.

Another commonly used ploy is a phishing email that takes the victim to a legit-looking site. There, the victim enters confidential personal and financial information to complete a transaction, and this is used by the scammer to steal funds.

“Fraudsters keep coming up with new ways to scam their victims, so we too must be extra vigilant to avoid falling prey,” Major Al Aryani said.

First-person account

Popular Emirati content creator Maitha Mohammad, who shares art and life-related content on her Instagram page and TikTok account with the handle @mythjourney, recently shared her brush with cybercrime.

“About two weeks ago, I received a call from a man who claimed to be with the Dubai Police. He said he needed some information from me about my Emirates ID and my COVID-19 vaccinations, and even sent me an SMS about it. He then asked me for a one-time password sent to my phone from Dubai Police. When I told him I would hang up and complete the transaction through the website, he said there was no such option. This sounded fishy to me,” Maitha told Gulf News.

Maitha then said she would visit a Dubai Police customer care centre to update her details.

“The caller once again insisted I share the one-time password with him, saying the update had to be completed immediately. It was then that I noticed that he kept referring to me as only ‘Ma’am’. This sounded suspect to me, so I asked him what my name was. He immediately hung up.”

She talked about her experience on her TikTok page, urging users never to share their one-time passwords even with family members. Her clip went viral overnight. “The next morning, I learnt that the clip was being shared even over messaging apps. So many people shared similar experiences with me,” she said.

How to protect yourself online
Never share a one-time password you have received on your phone with anyone.
If you have inadvertently shared sensitive banking details, call your bank immediately. Then inform Abu Dhabi Police by calling the Aman hotline on 8002626, or by texting on 2828.
Do not accept video conversation requests from strangers.
Do not accept friendships requests from strangers on social media.
Never share personal and financial information, including banking details, with people you do not know.
Never give in to blackmail attempts, as the extortion will never end.
Do not be deluded by text messages and emails about winning fake competitions.