Desperate. Scam victims visiting the Najm Alwafa office in Musaffah Image Credit: Supplied

ABU DHABI: A brazen trading scam that has been going around in Dubai and Sharjah has now hit Abu Dhabi.

Details are emerging that over 30 businessmen have lost millions of dirhams to a gang of sweet-talking Asian conmen who used a bogus company as a front to pull off the massive swindle before disappearing.

Indian trader Aamir, who has been cheated out of building materials worth Dh182,000, said the number of victims could cross 50 in the weeks ahead. “Every day we hear of a new case,” he said.

Industrial chemical supplier Mohammad A. N., whose loss runs into Dh1.7 million, said he’s shattered. “I don’t know how I can ever recover the money,” he told XPRESS.

In a meticulously planned operation, the conmen set up a phony company called Najm Alwafa Electromechanical Contracting in Musaffah and then quickly went about their job – approaching local companies and buying anything they could lay their hands on against post-dated cheques which would turn out to be duds.

The goods were later sold away to third parties at throwaway prices.

XPRESS has reported about similar scams in other emirates. In February 2013, Danat Al Mamzar General Trading left a trail of 40 victims in Sharjah, duping them of over Dh10 million. In October 2014, Spears International, Ronnington Technical Services and Steelite Electrical and Mechanical Engineering all disappeared within a few days of each other, wiping out nearly Dh30 million from the market and affecting hundreds of businessmen.

It’s not clear if it’s the same gang but the modus operandi is identical.

Najm Alwafa made cash payments for the first orders. Once the trust of traders was gained, they placed huge orders against post-dated cheques.

Aamir, whose company supplied steel plates and PVC pipes, said he didn’t sense any foul play because the firm looked genuine.

“The purchasing officer had all the documents. Trade licence, passport copies of the local partner and that of the Indian owner. Their bank statement showed good cash flow,” recalled Aamir. “The first transaction was for Dh36,000 and they paid cash. So I didn’t think twice before accepting a post-dated cheque for Dh146,000 for the next order.”

Alarm bells

Aamir said the alarm bells started ringing when the purchasing officer stopped taking his calls.

“Initially we thought it could be because of revised Ramadan timings. But when there was no response for days we rushed to their office behind UBL Bank. As we had feared it was locked.”

Mohammad A.N., who sold industrial chemicals worth Dh1.7 million, said he realised he had been duped when a Dh600,00 cheque given by the firm bounced last Thursday. “I know other cheques will also bounce,” he added. Another businessman, A. P., who supplied laptops and monitors worth Dh300,000, said the lost is yet to sink in. “I still cannot believe it. I visited their Musaffah office several times and we were constantly in touch with their staff through phone calls and WhatsApp. Now all their phones are switched off,” he said.

Other victims include R. J. who supplied building material worth 400,000; B. T. (pipes worth Dh200,000); and M.K. (plywood worth Dh115,000).

The dud cheques are signed in Malayalam and bear the name of Aboobacker.

Victims said their effort to file a joint police case did not succeed because many cheques are dated for July. “We were told they can’t register a police case unless our cheque bounces,” said a trader.

Meanwhile, efforts to trace the address of Aboobacker as given in his passport did not yield any result. “We have come to know from our sources that all the people involved in this scam have already left the country. We hope the culprits will be nabbed before they start conning other people in some other place,” said Aamir.

YOUSPEAK: Do you know of any victims of similar scams?