Resolving bank fraud a lengthy process for UAE customers

Two Abu Dhabi residents reveal the journey they took to secure a refund after being targeted by fraudsters

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 26 September 2017. Ahmed Tabish was a victim of bank account fraud with NBAD of Dh2,343 last month for a transaction for a Gulf Air ticket that he did not purchase. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Suzanne Locke. Section: National.
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If you fall victim to credit card or bank account fraud, it can take several months for the bank and card issuer to investigate.

And, as two victims who wrote into The National found, you have to foot the bill, however large, until that investigation is complete.

Brian Cummins, a 35-year-old Irish teacher in Abu Dhabi for the last seven years, has suffered a spate of four separate fraudulent purchases on his Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank (ADIB) Visa credit card account in just two months of this year, totalling almost Dh7,000.

On March 26, an Airbnb room booking for Dh3,117 was made on his Etihad Guest Platinum card (which has a Dh15,000 cap) while he was overseas in Ireland.

He blocked the card by calling the overseas call centre and was issued a new one, filling in two dispute forms upon his return to Abu Dhabi. He also had to prove, by sending copies of his flight tickets and a re-entry stamp to the UAE in his passport, that he had not been in the UAE at the time the transaction was done.

Mr Cummins says he was first told it would take 120 days for the investigation to be completed then, when he chased in August, he was told the process needed 180 days.

But just days after complaining about the delay in August, three further amounts were taken within minutes of each other on August 30: US$278 (Dh1,052) to a company in the United States; $80.27 to another US company and a third payment of $683.95 to a UK firm, says Mr Cummins.  A fourth, for a heftier $2,970.73 to a Singapore company, was luckily blocked due to insufficient funds.

After cancelling his card and requesting a replacement, Mr Cummins complained on ADIB's Facebook page, and then had to go into two separate branches and call the call centre to raise two disputes. He was refunded for both the March and August disputes on September 19.

Philip King, head of retail banking for the UAE at ADIB, calls Mr Cummins' example an "extremely rare and unfortunate case", which he says could have been caused by staff at retail outlets fraudulently capturing card details or Mr Cummins using non-secure sites where the "card data may have been compromised".

In this case, it took time for the bank to verify that it was a genuine fraud case, says Mr King but the money was refunded "as soon as the claim process was completed, and in line with Visa guidelines". Mr Cummins did not accrue any extra payment on the Islamic card and ADIB has one of the lowest fraud rates among card issuers in the UAE, he adds, and customers can now query any transaction through the mobile app as well as by phoning the 24/7 call centre.

Mr King warns: "As fraud becomes more sophisticated due to advancements in technology, combatting fraudulent activity needs to be a collaborative effort between banks, payment processors, vendors and customers."


Read more: 

How to keep your UAE credit cards safe from fraud

How to protect yourself from ATM scammers in the UAE


According to a biannual survey by payment systems company ACI Worldwide last year, 27 per cent of UAE residents reported being victim of credit card fraud in the past five years.  Jon Richards, the chief executive of financial comparison website, acknowledges that the lengthy process "may be frustrating" but that the bank and card issuer – likely Visa or MasterCard – go through "mountains" of data and transaction logs to find out how your card was compromised to investigate the offending merchant.

"As a consumer, you might not care about any of that, so long as your card is blocked and your money is refunded," he says. "But this investigation is necessary because of the question of who refunds you. If the card issuer is at fault, then it naturally follows that the card issuer should refund the cash. Likewise, if the bank is at fault, the bank will be obliged to foot the bill.

"While it may take some time, if you've become the victim of fraud through no fault of your own, you'll more than likely see your funds returned within that 60 to 90-day window." But, he thinks, "everyone should feel some sense of responsibility when it comes to card security".

Mr Cummins says he is now careful about handing over his credit card when making transactions in the UAE, particularly when it is taken out of his sight. "We are living in a very trusting environment because crime is so low but credit cards are a primary artery for expenditure," he warns.

Ahmed Tabish, a 25-year-old Indian research assistant in Abu Dhabi, is similarly cautious about his banking cards after he was targeted by fraudsters in August. 

He has had his salary paid into First Abu Dhabi Bank since he arrived in the city two years ago. On August 4, he received a text message informing him of a $626 transaction on his debit card to pay for Gulf Air flights that he had not purchased. He immediately blocked the card and was issued a replacement.

He filled in a dispute form and says he was told that, if the bank deemed it to be a fake transaction, the amount would be refunded after a two to three-month investigation. 

A spokesperson for First Abu Dhabi Bank says: "The bank has been in contact with Mr Tabish and explained that, as per our policy, the investigation process may take 45 to 60 days. The customer's request is still under investigation and Mr Tabish will be updated once the matter has been resolved.

"If the transaction is deemed invalid once the investigation has been closed, the transaction amount and any interest charges will be reversed to the card.

"We take the security of our customers' accounts very seriously, and provide 3D Secure, a complimentary security service which safeguards against unauthorised online transactions on all debit and credit cards. Customers are, however, responsible for the security of their credit card details."

Mr Tabish says he wants other UAE residents to be aware of the risks.

"I am an expatriate and came here to work; think about how difficult it is to survive if your money disappears in a fraud transaction," he says. "I follow normal security procedures – I never give my card to anyone and it is always in my personal custody, I track transactions and use online verification, recognised websites and one-time passwords sent to my mobile phone.

"I have lived in India, Australia and the UAE and this is the first time I have suffered a fraud, but friends have told me they have had issues in the UAE, for as much as Dh40,000 to Dh50,000, and sometimes never returned."

Mastercard's Nick Vora, senior vice president of security solutions and processing for Middle East and Africa, says fraud rates in the UAE are "comparable to global levels" but that Mastercard is working with the banks to reduce the investigation timeline.

Mastercard has a "strong zero liability" for cardholders, he adds: they should not be held liable for losses if they "exercised reasonable care to protect it in the first place" – in a store, over the phone, online or via mobile or at an ATM.

Over at Emirates NBD, the bank insists that its fraud protocol is "aligned to global best practices" in customer safety and the safeguarding of their financial information, and that prevention of card fraud is a "top priority".

Suvo Sarkar, senior executive vice president and group head for retail banking and wealth management at the bank, says its fraud division proactively contacts customers about suspicious spending patterns and provides a temporary credit limit equal to the disputed amount free of interest charges to "ensure a frictionless and hassle-free experience".

But beware of possible stings in the tail. Ambareen Musa, founder and chief executive of financial comparison website, says banks might credit you with the disputed amount while they are investigating – but warns that they "reserve the right to reverse this interim credit" at the end of the investigation if they do not agree that it was fraudulent. As for refunding interest charged on fraudulent transactions, repayment policies will "vary from bank to bank", adds Mr Richards of yallacompare, although it "stands to reason" that any customer found to be not at fault should also be refunded interest accrued on a fraudulent transaction.

Mr Cummins adds that he is thankful he only suffered small amounts of fraud. "Imagine if it had been Dh30,000? What bugged me, really, was that it was on two different cards. Yet my wife's card is on that account as well and has never been hit by fraud.

"I'm just relieved to get it back but it has made me very, very wary. I will be closing the account once it's reimbursed and paid off."