Cabin crew lose life savings in a money exchange scam. Picture for illustrative purposes. Image Credit: Bloomberg

Dubai: Scores of cabin crew and pilots with a local airline have lost their life savings to an elaborate currency exchange racket allegedly run by a British woman in Dubai.

Initial reports show the 33-year-old blonde sneaked into their Facebook group to prey on unsuspecting airline staff looking for attractive foreign exchange rates.

Lured by the promise of getting more value for their money, group members collectively gave her millions of dirhams between February and April.

A Belgian cabin crew told Gulf News he had transferred Dh96,000 to the woman’s Revolut account in April, while another one from France said he handed over Dh83,000 in cash over a meeting at a coffee shop in Dubai on March 14.

Like many others, they were told the funds would be wired to their banks in the currency of their choice - in this case euros - within days.

The great sham

The woman even issued receipts to show that the transactions were conducted in a credible and transparent manner.

Weeks later, the cabin crew and pilots are still waiting for the money to reach their accounts. Calls made to the woman remain unanswered while messages elicit no response. Meanwhile, it has emerged that the woman never made any remittance and all receipts issued by her were fake.

Several victims have since lodged police complaints against the woman whose exploits are being widely discussed on community groups and on Facebook, where she’s referred to as Imogen instead of her real name.

Gulf News is also withholding her name for legal reasons.

Victims recount anguish

“I entrusted her with Dh50,000 in the hope of getting a good exchange rate on dollars. But she disappeared,” said a British pilot who dealt with the Dubai Marina resident in March. A French cabin crew who has been duped out of 20,000 euros said he was devastated. “She appeared so convincing that I didn’t think twice before parting with my money. She opened her laptop, logged on to the portal of a British online money transfer service and punched in some numbers in front of my eyes as we sat in a coffee shop. I thought she was carrying out a live transaction. But now I realise everything was a sham,” he recalled.

A common thread runs through all cases - fake pregnancy. Every victim that Gulf News spoke to said the woman claimed she was pregnant and needed to swap her currency for maternity expenses.

“How could we tell she was faking it?” asked a flight attendant who lost an undisclosed amount of money.

Victims said the woman came up with some ruse or the other every time they asked for their money. “Initially, she blamed the delay on coronavirus and technical glitches at the online platform. In order to allay my fears, she sent me purported emails from the exchange house. Like her pregnancy, those were fake too,” he added.

People from the aviation industry are not the only ones who have been reportedly cheated by her.

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Valy Ossman, owner of Food Shack restaurant in JLT, Dubai, lost Dh162,000. Image Credit: Supplied

Briton Valy Ossman, owner of Food Shack restaurant in Jumeirah Lakes Tower (JLT), said the woman duped him out of Dh162,000.

“I was preparing to launch a second outlet in Al Barari and needed to convert about £42,000 (Dh190,308) into dirhams in a cost-effective way to open the restaurant by June 10,” the longtime Dubai resident recalled.

“Even a small fluctuation in rates and fees on this amount could mean a difference of several thousand dirhams. I was looking to get the best deal from exchange houses when ‘Imogen’ messaged me and offered to do a swap at market spot rate. She explained that she was pregnant and was looking to raise funds to be able to return to her husband in the United Kingdom and have the baby in the UK. It seemed like a plausible reason,” said Ossman who got just Dh24,000 from the woman. “She still owes me Dh162,000,” said Ossman who has also filed a police complaint against her.

The woman is also believed to be the central figure in a rental scam at a residential tower in Dubai Marina and a dodgy float-and-fun investment scheme.

The woman in question refused to talk to Gulf News, saying “She can’t talk at this time.”

Subsequent calls remained unanswered.

Gulf News has reached out to Dubai Police for comments, but has yet to get a response. Gulf News understands there are at least 20 complaints regarding this case filed at Al Barsha Police Station.