Conned. Victims of Reliancee Group pose with invoice copies and police reports at the bogus firm’s office in Al Quoz Industrial Area 4 on Sunday Image Credit: Abhishek Sengupta/XPRESS

Dubai: Fear and panic have gripped UAE businessmen after scores lost millions of dirhams in yet another trading scam, the tenth reported by XPRESS in recent years.

In each case, the modus operandi remains the same, only the settings have changed. After Ronnington, Steelite, Spears, Pal, Danat Al Mamzar, Najm Alwafa, Al Shika, Priyanka, Silver Star in the past and Barnabio only last week, yet another bogus company, Reliancee Group, has left a trail of misery and dud cheques.

Operating from a plush two storey office in Al Quoz Industrial Area, Reliancee’s haul is by far the biggest this year.

At last count, some 50 businessmen had been hit, with losses running into several millions.

Traders reckon the numbers might increase as more victims come forward in the coming weeks.

“What we have seen is the tip of the iceberg,” says Sharjah-based trader Pradeep whose company was conned into delivering 200 air conditioners worth Dh330,000.

The post-dated cheques issued against the purchase bounced this month and the entire staff of Reliancee Group vanished overnight.

“Of late, such scams have become a routine affair. If this goes on unchecked, many of us would be forced out of business soon,” said Ashley Coutinho, the general manager and proprietor of Dubai-based SRK Group that supplied sanitary and bath fittings worth Dh105,000 only to see all their post-dated cheques (PDCs) returned as duds.

The fear is not unfounded. Indian trader G.K., who lost Dh1.4 million in a similar scam last year, has already shut shop.

In a chilling reprise of earlier scams, Reliancee bought everything they could lay their hands on -- from 57,000 gallons of diesel worth Dh338,000 and 400 dry car batteries worth Dh53,000 to plywood worth Dh483,000 and laptops worth Dh85,000.

Before the cheques could be presented to the bank, the goods were sold for cash at throwaway prices from an Ajman warehouse.

“We’ve become so jittery that we can’t trust even our long-standing partners,” said Stanley who lost over Dh800,000 between Barnabio and Reliancee. “The rules of business are being rewritten. We can’t trust anyone these days,” he said.

Call for stricter rules

The spate of scams has intensified calls for stricter rules. Traders said their main grouse is that the police treats these as bounced cheque cases instead of organised crime. “Until there is a change in approach, such scams will continue,” said a Dubai businessman.

Traders are also demanding a law to prevent establishments from buying stolen goods. “My goods were bought by another firm for less than half and there’s nothing I can do about it,” said A.K. who deals in marble flooring. Once bitten twice shy, many are treading with extreme caution. New deals with unknown firms are a strict no-no as are credit facilities for existing clients.

“Trust used to be the hallmark of business in the UAE, but that doesn’t seem to be the case now as most of us are reluctant to accept post-dated cheques,” said a victim who took a Dh100,000 hit.

“We have started questioning and suspecting every company since we lost our money,” said Musthafa M. Padath, whose firm supplied 45 laptops worth Dh85,000 to Reliancee.