The conman offers a weight loss remedy to Mazhar Farooqui. Image Credit: XPRESS

DUBAI: I don't have six packs abs, but I am not fat either. In fact I am still five kilos below my ideal body weight.

But when I tucked a small cushion under my shirt and hit the narrow lanes of Meena Bazaar in Bur Dubai with a fake pot belly I certainly looked like one of those guys who grew up when meat was cheap.

My padded tummy was part of an elaborate plan to uncover a slimming racket that targets obese people. A bizarre way to expose a bizarre scam.

Before long, I was approached by a young man who tried to engage me in a chat. Just as I had been forewarned by some victims who had tipped me off, the conversation soon veered towards my bulging waistline. "Why don't you do something about it? I've a cheap remedy. It has benefited dozens like you. In 20 days your stomach will be as flat as mine. I want to help because you look like a nice man. Don't pay me anything, just remember me in your prayers."

I PLAY ALONG

"And what do I need to do?" I asked, mildly interested.

"Not much. You have to drink a mixture of herbs. People spend so much money on gyms trying to lose weight, but this costs only Dh50. Plus, it has no side-effects. Take down the names of the secret ingredients you'll need and you can make this fat-loss potion yourself," he said.

I took out my cell phone to key in the names, but except for black olives couldn't comprehend the gibberish-sounding names of the other items.

It was going the exact way described by the victims.

"Okay, get the olives first. We'll look for the other ingredients later," he said directing me to a nearby supermarket.

As I emerged with a Dh6 bottle of olives, the man led me to a shop that sells herbs and spices.

Inside, he rattled out a few names. I don't know whether anything by those names exist, but the shopkeeper nodded knowingly and pulled out an assortment of bottles carrying what looked like crushed powder and seeds.

After a bit of haggling my ‘mentor' settled the price at Dh25 each for the two ingredients that would melt my tummy fat and make my stomach as hard as rock.

"See, I told you, it costs Dh50 only," he said, as he took the olive bottle from my hand and asked the shopkeeper to grind the seeds and pour the ingredients inside the bottle.

As the shopkeeper went about his job, the man shook my hand and bade farewell, asking me to remember him in my prayers.

Just as the man disappeared around a bend, the shopkeeper handed me the ‘magic' potion along with a bill for Dh200. "But we settled for Dh50," I protested.

"Exactly - Dh50 for the two herbs. But your friend asked me to put four spoonfuls for better results," he said.

Obviously, there is no way you can call off the deal because by this time the finely grind mix has already been poured into your olive bottle.

I didn't pay the shopkeeper, but a lot of people do. Marginally overweight Dubai resident Adil, 37, who fell for the scam in February, said he shelled out Dh300 for the herbal potion. A 40-year-old Sharjah resident who tips the scales at 95kg said he was targeted by a conman last month as he stepped out of the car. Apparently, there are several conmen operating in the area. It's clear they are hand-in-glove with some shopkeepers selling herbs and medicines here.

If you're overweight and happen to visit the place, they might dangle the bait at you too. It's not a certainty, of course, but there's a fat chance.