It is 5.30pm and Rashid is finishing a busy day at work. He receives a call from his bank informing him that their records are out of date and he needs to provide some details to ensure his bank account is not frozen.
He is wary but the caller knows some of his personal details, so he thinks it is legitimate. He reveals his account details and the caller instructs him to relay the one-time password (OTP) from his phone.
By the time Rashid reaches home, all money has been wiped from his bank account. As soon as Rashid realises it, he contacts the bank and the police, but all evidence of the attacker has disappeared and he struggles to reclaim his money as he willingly gave the caller his personal details and the OTP.
If this sounds familiar, it is because financial fraud is becoming more common these days. This is a fictional story, but a common occurrence, nonetheless.
There was a 250 per cent increase in cyber attacks and more than 1.1 million financial fraud complaints in the UAE during 2020, according to cyber-security company Digital 14,
So, how do fraudsters try to lure us from our money and how can we protect ourselves? There are a number of common financial rackets, including:
This type of swindler claims to be working on behalf of a bank, government entity or well-known company. They sometimes call, text or email you, pretending to represent that company.
You may be asked for personal details under the guise that your records need updating or you may be sent an email containing a malicious link. Alternatively, they could offer you “great deals” or “lucrative investment opportunities”.
The fraudster will create a fake charity and ask you to donate money, manipulating you by making you feel guilty or sympathetic to the cause. They could email or call you to promote the charity, but the money will not go towards any charitable cause.
These types of swindles became common during the Covid-19 pandemic.
If you have received a call or text congratulating you on winning a large sum of money from an unknown source, it may have been lottery fraud. This type of fraud involves you giving out your bank details to receive your winnings. In reality, the fraudster then proceeds to empty your account.
This involves an email informing you of a recent purchase either from a fake company or an established online shopping merchant. There is usually a link to a form to fill in to avail a refund, which the victim dutifully completes, only to have their money stolen.
Advance fee fraud
Have you ever seen a listing on a popular site such as Airbnb and wondered whether it is too good to be true? It may have been an advance fee racket, whereby the customer pays upfront for a service or product, which turns out to be fake.
These swindlers design professional-looking, copycat websites to trick people into parting with their money.
How can I protect myself?
Swindlers are becoming more sophisticated in their tactics. Gone are the days in which fraud comprised a message from a so-called prince asking for your bank details so that he can give you millions. However, there are ways to protect yourself from falling victim to online fraud:
- Change your passwords regularly using obscure combinations, and don’t replicate the same password for several sites
- Do not sign into your email or open internet banking from public Wi-Fi
- Use multi-factor authentication such as fingerprint, OTP or an authenticator app to gain access to your accounts
- Do not keep too much money in one account — spread it over different banks
- Never click on links in emails or pop-ups. If you want to know whether it is legitimate, visit the company’s website to check
- Always carry out your research on a company before you purchase — check reviews or post about it on a Facebook group
- Never provide your personal or account details to anyone over the phone unless you make the call
- Ignore calls or emails about competition wins or lucrative offers — you can always call the company to check the legitimacy
The UAE authorities are constantly working to protect people from fraudsters, who are always devising new ways to trick people.
If you do fall victim to fraud, block your card immediately and report it to the police and your bank. Save any emails or text messages you receive from the swindler as evidence to help you reclaim your stolen money. Stay vigilant and report anything suspicious to the police.
Alison Soltani is the founder of LeapSavvySavers.com