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Dubai: As alarming as it sounds, you could be the next victim of identity theft.The phenomenon is becoming more prevalent than you think.

“The bad news is, it [identity theft] is not going down; it’s increasing,” Hassan Al Hais, Legal Consultant at Al Rowaad Advocates and Legal Consultants, told Gulf News.

Statistics specifically dealing with identity theft in the UAE are hard to come by although in 2014, according to the Cyber Investigation Department at Dubai Police, cybercrimes increased from 588 in 2011 to 1,419 in 2013. These crimes include personal information theft — especially photos — money-related fraud, and blackmail or extortion, especially sextortion.

Al Hais, who has handled many identity theft cases, said anyone can be a victim, especially those who easily believe what they read or hear.

“Can you believe that the most common case I have seen is when identity thieves use lawyers’ names [to swindle people]? Because people trust lawyers, thieves use lawyers’ names to establish credibility, then they steal people’s money,” Al Hais said.

“Normally, the swindler would be based in Africa but the money would be received in the US, Turkey, China or UAE. Then they [victims] have to file the case where the money was received against the person who received the money. That’s the real partner [in the set up].”

Al Hais said unsuspecting victims end up shattered once they realise they have been scammed, and even if the scam is busted it is often too late to make amends.

“I handled a case where a European woman was a victim of online scamming and she committed suicide because of shock. In another case, an Asian woman’s family abandoned her because she [ended up inadvertently] wasting her family’s savings [after being victimised].”

According to the US-based IdentityProtection.com, thieves can steal bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, and tax information from your mail — or even from your trash. They can get information from stolen passports, wallets with IDs and cards, phones, or laptops. They can also intercept personal information you give out to unsecured websites.

In some cases, they can gain access to personal records from unscrupulous individuals after getting them for a legitimate transaction, perhaps for a grocery or gym membership.

And once thieves have it, they have can do all sorts of evil, including taking out loans or credit cards in your name and not pay off the debt, opening a bank account in your name and writing dud cheques, cloning your debit cards and cleaning out your account, or impersonate you, whether in real life or online.

A lot of precautions have to be taken to make sure you don’t fall prey to identity thieves, Al Hais said.

1 Never indiscriminately give out copies of your identification papers to anyone, including bank “agents” without checking their real identity. In the UAE, it is a regular occurrence for bank agents to cold call potential customers and meet them in their office to process credit card applications.

2 Handing out personal documents without checking who the person really is a major mistake. In October last year, Gulf News reported the plight of an identity theft victim whose ordeal started when she and her sister gave their personal documents to a bank agent to apply for a credit card. She was told that the application had been declined but found out eventually that her papers were used to apply for a credit card and a quick cash loan of Dh10,000.

3 Protect yourself by making sure that you shred all your documents with personal information before discarding them in the trash. You should also review your credit reports and bank statements regularly. If you find anything suspicious, report it right away.

4 Be careful of using an unsecure public WiFi. Never make any online or mobile bank transactions when the connection is not secure.

5 Be wary of phishing sites where conmen masquerade as trustworthy entities and try to get your details. Never respond to unsolicited requests for personal information by phone, mail, or online with the promise that you have won in a raffle and they’ll be sending you your prize money.

“They have to know that all professionals would never use generic emails accounts like yahoo or mail.com or outlook.com when transacting with you. They will be using their company emails, ” Al Hais said.

“Remember that nobody is giving you money for free. That is very suspicious, especially huge money. You have to know that something fishy is going on.”