- Cybercrime remains on the rise in the UAE.
- Sharjah Police's specialised units monitor the web round the clock for suspicious behaviour.
- Online games are a major source of cybercrime and blackmail.
- Fake charities are another source.
- Simple steps can help protect us from these criminals. See the list below
Sharjah: A teenager is hooked on to PUBG. He meets a stranger online, who asks him to send him photos in return for money so he can get higher scores in the game. After receiving the photos, the stranger started to blackmail him.
A seven-year-old child meets a stranger online, who gets hold of his personal photographs. The criminal then asks the child to provide him with bank details of his father. The suspect threatens the victim that unless a sum of money is paid, they will expose the photos on the web. The father prudently reported it to the police.
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Cybercrime is here. Cybercrime is now.
It’s probably happening in your backyard but you don’t have a clue.
Sharjah Police have urged residents to report cases of cyberblackmail and assured that such cases are handled with full confidentiality.
“Don’t be a victim, report any threat now,” Brigadier Ebrahim Al Ajel, Director of the Criminal Investigation Department at Sharjah Police, told Gulf News, urging people to report such crimes so that criminals cannot target more victims.
Brigadier Al Ajel said that victims of cybercrimes often do not report the crimes against them as they are embarrassed or do not want their personal information to be made public.
As many as 269 cybercrime cases were recorded in Sharjah last year, compared to 256 cases recorded in 2018. Most of these cases were related to sexual offences, financial blackmail, frauds against companies and establishments, phone scams, extortions and defamation. “These crimes are growing rapidly and current statistics are not precise enough because many cases remain unreported,” Brig Al Ajel said.
Brig Al Ajel said these crimes are easy to commit from anywhere in the world. “Most internet users don’t take security measures to protect their accounts, something that leaves them vulnerable to exploitation,” he added.
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He said electronic fraud is one of the most difficult crimes to be dealt with by judicial officers due to the difficulty of identifying the crime scene. It is sometimes also difficult to affix seals to the instruments of the crime, especially if the offender carried out his activities from outside the UAE. “But what matters is how we handle them. We work with international organisations to fight all kinds of internet crimes.” he said.
269Cybercrime cases reported in Sharjah last year
Sharjah Police online patrols operate round the clock to monitor criminal activity in cyberspace and nab people who misuse social media and blackmail victims. An average of 30 suspicious accounts and six accounts related to cybercrime blackmail are being closed on a daily basis, either by police CID or via telecommunication authorities, in cooperation with police.
Suspects target both companies and individuals, Brig Al Ajel explained. He said recently the suspects have started to use new methods of cheating companies that have international transactions. They hack into the companies’ email and make simple changes in their account by adding letters or numbers. They then send emails to the company’s clients, telling them the company has changed its account and asking them to transfer the money to the new account.
They also exploit occasions and events by creating accounts on social media platforms and lured unsuspecting victims by offering fake investments.
For example, many fraudsters use the slogan ‘Expo 2020’ to target businessmen and traders. In one incident, a man lost Dh9 million. The suspect was outside the country and the victim sent the money in instalments. Police managed to track down the suspect and arrested him through Interpol.
Sharjah Police recently launched a campaign to raise awareness of potential online dangers. Brig Al Ajel urged all community members to be careful when dealing with strangers, particularly online, and never exchange personal information with them.
In a recent incident, a man posed as woman and chatted with men through phone messages and earned Dh100,000 in two years. Police tracked down the suspect and arrested him.
* Scammers often use fake accounts of celebrities on social media platforms.
* Snapchat topped apps in blackmail cases.
* Free video games like PUBG and Fortnite (children under 15 fall victims in such cases).
* Magicians who claim ability to solve family disputes or bring a lover.
* Dubious money sites and accounts.
* Exchange of bank account details among friends.
* Fake bank SMS.
In another case, a man lost Dh3,000,000, which he handed over to someone he met on social media. This persons promised that the amount will be doubled to 6,000,000. The victim didn’t approach the police initially to report the case, as he felt ashamed but later police encouraged him to report the issue.
According to police records, users of the social media app Snapchat witness cybercrime blackmail the most. The criminals obtain private pictures and videos of their victims by tricking them, then subjecting them to blackmail. Sharjah Police have saved many such victims from blackmailers.
Video game scammers
Police also recorded several blackmail cases through PUBG and Fortnite video games. The Sharjah Police have rescued children aged as young as 5 and 7 from extortion after strangers took advantage of the in-game chat rooms.
Brig Al Ajel pointed out that the behaviour of some children and students are becoming aggressive because of playing violent video games. These are free games that hinder children safety.
Police have also recorded a number of suicides or incidents of people planning to commit suicide because of playing such dangerous video games. He called upon higher authorities to establish an body that can regulate and control such apps and video games.
Brig Al Ajel urged parents to monitor their children’s behaviour and use of smart devices. They were especially warned not to circulate their personal information and photos via social media so that they don’t become easy prey to criminals. He also advised parents not to allow their children to speak to strangers online.
A number of people have recently fallen victim to scammers who claimed to be celebrities and prominent members of the community, police discovered.
According to officials, most of the fake accounts are on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter platforms. They use a picture of a well-known person, posting news and activities of the real person, to get more followers. The account owners then deceive unsuspecting followers, luring them into paying money for a noble cause, like helping needy people such as refugees.
* If a media account has a symbol picture of a girl or a girl holding a child it may mean the account holder wants to win the trust of the victims. Accounts of terrorist groups will often have a profile picture of a group or a team.
* The number of followers of media accounts is another way in addition to the type of followers. There are accounts for selling followers and their main aim is to target the maximum number of social media users.
* The criminals generally use the media more during the evening than morning as it is a preferable time to win the trust of their victims.
* People with fake accounts (like companies selling products or accounts selling followers) do not respond to general messages sent to them and prefer replying in private.
* It’s not hard to find out whether an account is genuine or fake. This can be done by using one of the search engines to check if there is any warning mentioned by any person regarding the fake account.
The suspects who manage the fake accounts send a direct message to their followers, asking them to participate in charity work, by transferring money.
Sharjah Police warned residents from exposure to the financial blackmail, which can come over the internet through the use of social networking apps, and urged users not to accept any anonymous requests.
Brig Al Ajel pointed out that the method used by the criminals started with sending requests for addition to contacts on social media or email. Once it is accepted by the victim, they send an link, which can penetrate the computer directly once the victim clicks on the link. The hacker can then copy the photos and data of the user.
Capt Mohsen Ahmad, director of the cybercrime department of the Sharjah Police, told Gulf News that preventing cybercrimes starts with the safe and proper usage of the internet. Due to the alarming rise of cybercrimes and blackmailing cases, Sharjah Police recently launched an awareness campaign to prevent the public — particularly schools and university students — from falling victim to online fraud.
For women victims, there are special policewomen, who deal with the incidents relating to leaked pictures and videos confidentially. Many cases involving married couples, women, minors and teenagers were solved by CID without referring them to public prosecution.
Cybercrime or fraud is punishable by Federal Law No. 5 of 2012 on information technology crimes and specifically in Article 11 thereof, which states that the suspect is to be punished with imprisonment for not less than one year and a fine of not less than Dh250,000 and not more than Dh1 million or both.