E-mail and phone scams find victims in Emirates

Residents are falling victim to cybercrimes that are cheating them out of hundreds of thousands of dirhams a year.

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DUBAI // Residents are falling victim to cybercrimes that are cheating them out of hundreds of thousands of dirhams a year. People in Dubai were conned out of more than Dh130,000 (US$35,390) over the past 14 months by SMS and e-mail messages that offered bogus lottery prizes, said Col Khalil Ibrahim al Mansouri, head of the city's Criminal Investigation Department (CID). Earlier this month, Abu Dhabi Police said it had received 14 complaints from victims of mobile-phone scams that had cheated them out of Dh120,000. The director of Abu Dhabi Police, Brig Gen Amir Mohammad Muhairi, said the figures did not reveal the scale of fraud as many victims did not report crimes.

Col al Mansouri said the cases are investigated by a CID electronics unit. According to its statistics, victims were cheated out of Dh115,960 in 2008. The department has received reports of two cases this year totalling Dh22,300. In a typical scam, fraudsters send a message to victims saying they have won a lottery jackpot or large cash prize. To claim the money they have to provide personal and bank account information, the message says. Col al Mansouri said: "Some scammers will use the e-mail to announce the large winnings and send forged documents and pictures of other former 'winners'. They then ask for a fee that they say is required to open their victims a bank account in that country." The head of Abu Dhabi CID, Col Maktoum al Sharifi, said the perceived affluence of the UAE was making its residents prime targets for cybercriminals. He added that most international calls claiming to be promoting goods or services would probably turn out to be fraudulent and aimed at stealing mobile credit. Col al Sharifi gave the example of a woman who provided details of her e-mail account. "The scammer contacted all those on her list telling them that she was in some Asian country and was stuck after losing her money and passport. She was surprised that all her relatives and friends called her to ask if she was OK before sending her the money she wanted," he said. Police say they have arrested many cyber scammers, most of them from Africa. Col al Mansouri said another popular scam - generally managed from the UK or Nigeria - involved using public pay phones to contact potential victims. The fraudsters would punch in random digits after dialling the country's code. Or, they would tap into various websites to which millions of potential victims subscribe, such as chat rooms or commercial websites and others, he said. Col al Mansouri said police have been working closely with the telecoms provider Etisalat to block websites linked to electronic crimes. "If anyone realises they are being targeted by such bogus claims they should go to the police station in their district so that the department can begin to search for these criminals. Furthermore, we also advise people to completely disregard any such messages." rabubaker@thenational.ae * With additional reporting by Hassan Hasan