Dubai: A fake website of the UAE Embassy in India being used to extort money from UAE residents stuck in India due to the COVID-19 entry restrictions has been blocked after the scam came to light following complaints from some Indian expatriates stuck in Kerala.
The fraudsters were using the fake website with a ‘.in’ domain [uaeembassy.in] cloning information — excluding the contact details — on the original website of the UAE Embassy in India that uses a ‘.ae’ domain. They were targeting expats seeking special approval to return to the UAE.
The call centre of the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MOFAIC) confirmed to Gulf News that the website using the ‘.in’ domain is fake. The site is currently not accessible in both India and the UAE.
Reports from India said that the cyber cell of Kerala Police had begun investigations into the scam after some UAE residents reported the matter to the police. V Muraleedharan, India’s Minister of State for External Affairs, had reportedly taken note of the incident.
Speaking to Gulf News from Kerala, Namitha Venugopal, one of the complainants, said she had ended up accessing the fake website when she was searching for help to know what to do to renew her visa to return to the UAE. “My visa is due to expire on August 5 and I didn’t know what to do. I tried the GDRFA [General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs — Dubai] website, but couldn’t find out what I needed do to in order to renew my visa and whether I could fly back on the same visa once the entry restrictions are lifted,” said Namitha, who lost her job as a network engineer in Dubai amid the pandemic. She said she thought of contacting the UAE Embassy in New Delhi to seek clarification on the matter.
Top on Google search
“When you search for the [UAE] Embassy on Google from India, this fake website was the first one that pops up. Usually, we see email IDs with ‘information’ or ‘admin’ for general enquiries. Hence, I didn’t have any suspicion when I sent an email to the administrator of that website.”
However, in reply to the mail, Namitha was informed that an agent of the Embassy would assist her on the WhatsApp number +971566787769. When Namitha contacted this number, she was asked to get a special permission letter from the Embassy by sending copies of her documents to the administrator’s email. She was also asked to refer the name of one Naveen Kumar.
Since there have been reports of UAE residents returning from India with special approvals, Namitha did not think twice and sent copies of her passport, visa, Emirates ID, air ticket, COVID-19 vaccination certificate and photograph of her and her husband to the said email address.
It was when she got a reply to that email asking for a fee of Rs16,100 that Namitha suspected that she had been taken for a ride. “In the reply, we were asked to deposit this money to the money exchange account of one Veeru Kumar and the details of a bank account in Delhi were given. I realised it was a scam from the language used in that letter and the requirement to send the money to an individual instead of the mission’s account.”
Site linked to Google Maps too
Namitha’s husband Naveen Balan, who works as a business development manager in Dubai, said they were shocked to find that the fake website had also been linked to the Google Map of the UAE Embassy. “Once you Google the location of the Embassy, you get the Google Map link and if you click on the tab for the website, it takes you to this fake site. People would never expect this.”
When Gulf News tried to access the fake site directly, it showed that the server could not be found from the UAE. However, when we searched for the location on Google Maps and tried to access the site linked to that, we could earlier visit the fake website from the UAE. This has since been changed and the genuine site of the embassy is now linked to Google Maps.
Gulf News has also found out that the WhatsApp number first contacted by Namitha is still active and was using the logo of the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. When inquired about travel approval in guise of a stranded expat, we also received the message asking us to send email with the reference of Naveen Kumar.
“This is a serious scam and we are afraid many gullible people may fall for it. We have no idea how many people may have already sent money to these fraudsters. We are glad the site has been blocked. But, we hope the authorities in India and the UAE will take strict action against those behind the scam. We have sent letters to the UAE Ambassador to India and the Home Minister of India apprising them about this fake website conning people,” said Namitha and Naveen.
An immediate response was not available from the UAE Ambassador to the UAE.