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Police urged sellers not to hand over their car until they receive payment in full. Image used for illustrative purpose only. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Abu Dhabi: Police in Abu Dhabi have warned residents of a new fraud targeting people who want to sell their car, in which the buyer shows fake bank payment or transfer receipts and vanishes after taking possession of the vehicle.

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Other emirates, including Sharjah, have also recently alerted sellers against such scams (which target sellers of other goods besides cars).

Brigadier General Musallam Mohammed Al Ameri

Explaining the fraud, Brigadier General Musallam Mohammed Al Ameri, acting director of the Criminal Security Sector of Abu Dhabi Police, said the con begins with the seller announcing on social media sites that he or she wants to sell their car (or some other item). A perpetrator gets in contact with the seller and finalises the deal.

The fraudster sends the seller a fake bank receipt stating that the money has been sent from his account to the seller. Usually a public holiday is chosen as the day on which show the receipt, to use the pretext that the transfer will be completed and the money will be credited once the holiday period is over, after the bank resumes normal business hours.

The seller is also presented a cheque - which eventually turns out to be forged - so that the seller can transfer the ownership of the vehicle to the ‘buyer’. Meanwhile the fraudster takes possession of the vehicle - presumably for a ‘test drive’ - but does not return, and the promised money never reaches the seller.

Brig Gen Al Ameri urged sellers not to hand over their car, physically or legally, to anyone pretending to be a buyer unless they receive the agreed upon sum of money in full and the legal paperwork in completed. He also stressed on the keenness of Abu Dhabi Police General Command in educating the public so they can confront such frauds, assist officials by reporting them promptly, and strengthen preventive measures to avoid falling victim.

Report fraud
If someone is exposed to such fraud, he or she should visit the nearest police station to file a report, in addition to passing the information through the Abu Dhabi Police’s security service, which works round the clock in complete confidentiality. They can call the toll-free number 8002626 (AMAN2626), send a text message to 2828, email, or use the official app of the Abu Dhabi Police General Command.

Similar tactics

Also, the Sharjah Police General Command had months ago warned the community against fraudulent websites that claim to specialise in buying and selling cars. As stated in the Sharjah Police warning, the fraudsters use a new criminal method in which they deposit fake cheques in ATMs during weekends (Saturday and Sunday), or official holidays, taking advantage of the pause in financial operations in banks - and deceiving victims into completing the deal meanwhile.

The fraudsters, after completing the initial purchase, deposit remaining fake cheques into the accounts of the sellers (the victims) for the amount of the vehicle through the ATM, disguised so that they are not recognised by the bank surveillance cameras.

The seller receives a text message from the bank stating that a cheque has been deposited and that the deposit process is under collection. The perpetrator puts pressure on the seller to complete the vehicle ownership transfer procedure - so the criminal can steal it.

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Rising scams

Meanwhile, Counsellor Dr Muhammad Hussein bin Ali Al Hammadi explained the role of the Public Prosecution in such crimes. If the incident is proven, the accused is referred to court. He said the issue of fraud in the sale of vehicles has become a “preoccupation” for both security and judicial authorities due to its spread in recent years. The Counsellor said the crime may be committed by an individual or a gang, and it may occur in one country or several countries, depending on the scope and nature of the criminal operation. Dr Al Hammadi assured residents that authorities are aware of such attempts to victimise them and they are taking proactive steps to safeguard the community.

Tips when buying a car
• Be wary of sellers who refuse to meet in person, face to face.
• Use caution if the seller only wants to communicate via email or text message.
• Be extremely wary if the seller claims they cannot talk on the phone.
• If possible, have a car mechanic join you and inspect the vehicle before you pay to complete a sale.
• Exercise caution if the seller states the vehicle must be shipped to your location or is currently not in their physical possession.
Source: Lawyer Dr Fatima Al Neyadi, from Capital Office Fair Law and Legal Consultations in Abu Dhabi

Legal opinion

Dr Fatima Al Neyadi

Regarding the legal opinion in such criminal cases, lawyer Dr Fatima Al Neyadi, from Capital Office Fair Law and Legal Consultations in Abu Dhabi, said: “When buying items such as cars online, protect yourself from scams by being wary of sellers who refuse to appear in public and meet with you in person, insist on suspicious and unusual payment methods, or show an urgency to sell the car. Verify the payment, use secure payment platforms, and be wary of those who want to sell without having the car inspected. Avoid sharing personal information too soon, trust your instincts, and look for common online car selling scams to stay informed and vigilant.”