Dubai: Some vendors in Bur Dubai are exploiting people’s insecurities about gaining those extra kilograms over the years or losing hair.
Incidents of street touts approaching pedestrians around Dubai, offering hair loss ‘cures’ and herbal medicines promising ‘instant’ weight loss are apparently increasing.
Gulf News received a number of complaints recently from concerned readers who have personally been approached by such touts or know others who have.
Anil Kumar is a 53-year-old businessman based in Dubai and one day, causally shopping with his wife in Dubai’s Meena Bazaar area, he was approached by one such person.
Casually waiting on the pedestrian walkway for his wife to return from a shop, according to Kumar, a person approached him and asked whether he was looking for a ‘cure’ to his protruding belly.
Seeing his shocked expression, the vendor was quick to suggest a herbal medicine and told Kumar to follow him to a shop. A bit hesitant, but hoping to get help for his weight loss goals, Kumar followed the person down Meena Bazaar’s narrow alleyways and footpaths.
Kumar stated that the vendor walked fast and knew exactly where he was going. “He raced through the streets as if he has done this a thousand times before,” he said.
Arriving at a shop that sold herbal products, the shopkeepers there were quick to recommend a ‘medicine’ in the form of a powder that was supposed to be mixed with other items and priced at Dh1000.
Kumar was not expecting the product to cost over a few hundred dirhams. Not willing to pay the amount that was asked for, Kumar promised to return later and quickly left.
“I had to tell them I don’t have that much money in my pocket. I was suspicious, and it was not the right way to approach anyone,” he said.
He was glad he did not give in and buy anything. “I am sure there are those who fall for such scams and buy what is offered, I would like to warn them about this,” he said.
Unsuspecting visitors targeted
It’s not only UAE residents who are being targeted but tourists have also been approached.
M. A. Josekutty, is a 59-year-old based in India. He came to visit his daughter in Dubai in 2015.
“My daughter took us to Meena Bazaar, which for us looked similar to such markets in Delhi,” he said.
During their trip, he had a similar experience like Kumar.
“While we were walking through the market, a young man who appeared to be another visitor, passed by. He suddenly stopped and turned back to me and said that his waistline used to be generous like mine. He told me that it was a wonderful herbal preparation suggested by someone that helped him lose his paunch.”
Josekutty was looking to get fitter and the man’s confidence convinced him.
“I don’t how or why, but this conversation influenced me, and I eagerly asked him from where I could get the said herbal pill,” he said.
Just like Kumar, he was taken to a shop in the area.
Josekutty took the leap and bought the medicine offered to him. It was not as expensive as the one presented to Kumar, it cost Josekutty Dh100.
Hours after buying the concoction, Josekutty realised that he was not happy with his decision of buying it and thought that the product might not be as effective as he was told.
“I feel like they mostly net unsuspecting visitors. They can easily spot fresh visitors from their body language,” he said.
Gulf News pursues complaints
Gulf News reader and another victim of a similar incident in Sharjah’s Rolla area, Gulzar Ahmad, identified with the complaints and decided to give Meena Bazaar a visit, along with Gulf News.
The 50-year-old walked around for a while in a part of Meena Bazaar that is particularly known to be popular amongst shopkeepers trying to solicit passers-by.
While waiting, Ahmad recalled the incident that took place in Sharjah about eight years ago. “I have always been insecure about my weight, particularly my paunch and when a person, who I thought might help me reach my goals with natural methods, approached me, I was quick to listen to him,” he said.
Just like what happened with those who visited Meena Bazaar, Ahmad was taken to a shop in Sharjah’s Rolla where he bought herbal ‘medicines’ that promised him to help him with his weight loss, lack of energy and even eyesight. It cost him about Dh250.
“He [the shopkeeper] was practically naming all kinds of illnesses he thought I might have and told me that this powder would help me,” he recalled.
Nigella seeds were one of the main ingredients in the ‘medicine’ offered to Ahmad as well as Josekutty and Kumar.
“I don’t know why I bought the product and I will definitely will not fall for it again,” he said.
During the Ahmad’s and Gulf News’ time at the place, no one approached him so he decided to walk into a shop similar to those that such touts usually lead people to.
A Nigella seeds-based product similar to the one most people who have complained was offered to Ahmad. The shopkeepers promised that it would ‘cure’ the same illnesses the ones in Sharjah had told him about.
Nigella seeds have long been used in herbal medicine and for various culinary purposes, such as to preserve food. They are usually used to help boost the immune system, fight cancer, reduce swelling, and lessen allergic reactions by acting as an antihistamine and various other illnesses.
Department of Economic Development (DED) Dubai comments
Ahmad Al Zaabi, Director, Consumer Protection, Commercial Compliance and Consumer Protection (CCCP) sector at the DED told Gulf News that lodging a complaint is the best idea when someone has a complaint about such issues in the UAE. “Departments and teams dedicated to such matters will take action,” he said.
Dubai Police offers help
Gulf News spoke to Dubai Police about the issue and they said that if a customer feels he or she is annoyed or harassed by the shopkeepers then they can call the police command room on 901 or go to the nearest police station to register a complaint.