The Debt Panel: ‘I lost $4,000 in a WhatsApp scam’

A fraudster tricked the Dubai resident into using her credit card to buy online gift vouchers

Residents should not share personal, sensitive or financial details through unverified communication channels, says Commercial Bank of Dubai's Khaled Al Hammadi. Nick Donaldson / Getty Images
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I work as an assistant and recently received a WhatsApp message from a new number. On checking the profile picture, it looked like my boss was sending me messages.

He said he was in an important client meeting and asked me to urgently buy online gift vouchers worth Dh15,000 ($4,084) and send it to him as a way of entertaining the client.

He said he had limited network coverage and couldn’t access the internet well. He added that his phone was low on charge, so he was messaging me from another number.

My boss was not in office, so there was no way I could confirm whether this was a fraud attempt.

I used my credit card to buy the gift vouchers and transferred it to the person. I later realised this was a scam when the person stopped responding to my messages and calls.

I couldn’t afford to pay my credit card bill in full last month as I don’t have the money to pay for this. I paid the minimum amount only. My monthly salary is Dh5,000.

I am worried I will go into a debt spiral because of this incident. Is there any way to recover this money?

How can I avoid falling prey to such fraudsters? AK, Dubai

Debt panellist 1: Steve Cronin, founder of

Alas, these scams are happening more and more. If it’s not your boss, it’s your child, friend or colleague.

Now with the rise of deepfakes, you may start receiving voice messages that sound like their voice, or even video messages.

Beware of Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook profiles that are duplicates of people you may know. These are also used to scam you.

The scammer has taken advantage of your loyalty to the company. Have you discussed this with your boss? You may be embarrassed, but it is important for him to know about this. Someone has used his picture to scam you and could scam other employees.

You could explain to your boss that by trying to help “him” have a successful client meeting, you are now severely in debt. He may get the company to either pay off your debt or to give you a cash advance that can help pay it off. Don’t suffer in silence.

If the number is a UAE number, you should go to the police. It is unlikely they can get the money back because you used gift vouchers rather than a bank transfer, but they may be able to stop the scammers.

If you cannot get help from your company, you could talk to your bank and ask them to convert the amount to a personal loan. This should reduce the interest rate and penalty charges, at least.

It is unlikely that you will fall for this scam again. You should be suspicious of all emails, SMS text and WhatsApp messages asking for money, one-time passwords, login details, bank account details or card information.

You can set up a code word during a discussion with your boss, good friends and family – don’t send it electronically. Then if you get a sudden request for help, you can ask them for the code word and this will block any scammer.

You will also need to be more insistent on asking for proof of identity, as scammers prey on your good nature or anxiety.

If you had asked your boss to phone you, email you or even give you some non-obvious fact about your company, the scammer would have been stopped.

Debt panellist 2: Carol Glynn, founder of Conscious Finance Coaching

I’m so sorry you fell victim to this scam. Unfortunately, because you bought the vouchers and transferred them directly to the scammers, it is unlikely your bank will be helpful.

It is worth filing a police report about the scam. The police can investigate and help with any legal actions against the fraudsters.

But it’s important to be aware it is very difficult to find the individuals who carry out scams like this. They are skilled scammers and know how to prevent themselves from being found. For example, they will change numbers regularly and give false information when setting up the phone account, so it will be very difficult to trace them.

Have you called the issuer of the gift vouchers to discuss cancelling them? It's likely the vouchers were immediately spent once sent to the scammers, but it may be worth trying anyway.

Explain the situation and ask the issuers if the vouchers can be cancelled, or if not, blocked and reissued in your name so you can use them or sell them to get some money back.

Regarding preventing this from happening again, it’s wise to be cautious about unexpected messages, especially those involving financial transactions. Don’t be afraid to question them, even if it seems to be legitimately from someone you know.

It is very easy to take a photo from an online source and apply it to a WhatsApp or fake online profile. Verify the identity of the sender through other means. Call the person they are claiming to be. Send them an email using an address you used in the past asking for confirmation. Be wary of urgency and pressure tactics used by scammers.

I understand you may feel embarrassed but it’s important to inform your boss about the situation. They should be made aware of the incident to prevent further scams from targeting employees in your workplace.

Criminals continually adapt their methods, so it’s important to stay updated on potential risks.

Regarding your current financial situation, I would recommend creating a plan to pay it off. This is a large sum in comparison to your salary, so I would recommend calling your bank and asking them for options to convert the transaction into an instalment plan.

The New Zealand bot helping you troll email scammers

The New Zealand bot helping you troll email scammers

They may allow you to spread the cost over 12 to 24 months, for example. Ask for an interest-free option to do this.

This will help prevent it from taking many years and paying extremely high interest payments each month to eventually pay it off.

Alternatively, you could seek a loan for this amount. The interest on a loan will be lower than what it will cost you if you pay only the minimum balance each month.

Do you have savings or access to cash through family members to clear the balance? Interest rates on credit card balances are dangerously high.

It might also be worth discussing the situation with your employer to see if there are any options for assistance.

Remember that recovering from a scam like this can be challenging both financially and emotionally. You are not alone in falling foul of these kinds of scams, so be kind to yourself. Taking proactive steps can help you navigate this difficult situation and avoid similar pitfalls in the future.

Debt panellist 3: Khaled Al Hammadi, general manager of personal banking at Commercial Bank of Dubai

Falling victim to a scam can be incredibly disheartening, but please know that you're not alone, and there are steps we can take to address the issue and prevent such incidents in the future.

Firstly, regarding the money lost due to the scam, I advise you to immediately report this fraudulent activity to your bank. They can guide you on the steps you should follow, such as blocking unauthorised transactions and launching an investigation.

Scammers often create a sense of urgency to pressure you into making quick decisions without fully assessing the situation
Khaled Al Hammadi, general manager of personal banking, Commercial Bank of Dubai

Given your financial situation, paying off your credit card bill in full might be challenging. However, I recommend avoiding paying only the minimum amount as you can quickly accumulate high-interest charges. Contact your bank to discuss your options and to see if you can work together to set up a repayment plan that fits your budget and minimises interest costs.

To prevent falling victim to future scams, I'd like to highlight a few practices you should follow:

  • Double-check the authenticity of unexpected messages or requests, especially if they request you to transfer money or pay for something on behalf of another individual. If in doubt, directly contact the person through alternative or official channels to confirm the request is legitimate.
  • Scammers often create a sense of urgency to pressure you into making quick decisions without fully assessing the situation. Take a moment to pause and evaluate the situation calmly before taking any action.
  • Enable two-factor authentication on your accounts to add an extra layer of security. This can help prevent unauthorised access, even if scammers obtain your login details.
  • You should never share your personal, sensitive or financial details through unverified communication channels. Legitimate organisations will never ask for sensitive information, such as confirming your one-time password or asking for your PIN through messaging apps.
  • Familiarise yourself with common scam tactics and be cautious of suspicious messages, emails or phone calls. You can find out about such tactics from your bank's website or official UAE government websites.

Lastly, I recommend you seek support from a financial counsellor or debt management professional. They can assist you in creating a manageable financial plan.

The Debt Panel is a weekly column to help readers tackle their debts more effectively. If you have a question for the panel, write to

Updated: August 17, 2023, 5:00 AM