The UAE Banks Federation, Central Bank of the UAE and Abu Dhabi and Dubai police forces are jointly rolling out the country’s first national fraud awareness campaign, as more residents use digital banking services during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Under the theme #TogetherAgainstFraud, the social media campaign aims to equip consumers with the knowledge to protect themselves against fraudsters harassing them with coronavirus-linked scams.
“As a nation, we continue our fight against Covid-19 and that includes combating fraud and cyber security risks in the banking and financial system. As digital banking transactions are witnessing a significant spike during this time, we at Central Bank of the UAE have been quick to deploy robust fraud prevention measures to protect consumers,” said Abdulhamid Saeed, Governor of the Central Bank of the UAE.
“The newly launched fraud awareness campaign … is aimed at informing consumers about the proliferation of phishing activities while enabling them to stay alert. We continue to advise consumers to be aware of malicious activities and schemes while practicing caution when sensitive and personal information is requested.”
There has been a surge in fraudulent activities across the globe as residents are restricted to their homes because countries are observing strict containment measures to curb the spread of the virus. Many of the latest scams are linked to Covid-19.
The Federal Trade Commission in the US, for example, said Americans filed complaints about losses to coronavirus-related fraud totalling nearly $6 million (Dh22.03m) in March.
The UAE is “no exception to this trend”, according to the new joint initiative, with common scams targeting victims via email, text message, phone and social media, as fraudsters pose as government entities, banks and healthcare providers to trick victims into disclosing personal or financial information.
Last year Abu Dhabi Police arrested 13 criminal gangs made up of 142 fraudsters involved in vishing attacks (where victims are pressured to reveal confidential details by phone), according to Major General Maktoum Ali Al Sharifi, director-general of Abu Dhabi Police. The fraudsters were posing as bank employees and asking customers to disclose their bank details and personal information to steal their money.
In 2018, there was a year-on-year increase of 18.2 per cent in fraud cases in the UAE, with these numbers increasing again in 2019, said the joint initiative.
Last month, the Central Bank warned the public to be wary of potential fraudulent activities using its name, and said it expected these types of scams to increase during the outbreak.
“This is a serious threat to society that must be addressed, particularly under these challenging circumstances where fraudsters are taking advantage of the fear and uncertainty created by the Covid-19 outbreak,” said Abdulaziz Al Ghurair, chairman of UBF.
“We not only aim to equip the public with the knowledge and resources they need to protect themselves from fraud, but also disrupt the criminal networks that are targeting UAE residents.”
Not being able or wanting to leave the house amid the crisis creates a higher demand for online shopping as people look to buy food, entertainment and other items online, which puts them at risk of cyber criminals said Tatiana Sidorina, security researcher at Moscow-based cybersecurity firm Kaspersky.
"This, coupled with boredom shopping, as well as desirable offers from retailers trying to stay afloat as the economy takes a hit, often creates a situation where cybercriminals are prowling," she added.
The national fraud awareness campaign will run across social media platforms until the end of the year, focusing on different topics each month such as SIM swap fraud, phishing, vishing, lottery scams, vanishing ink scams, card skimming, email redirection fraud and data privacy.
Dubai Police urged UAE residents to remain vigilant during these uncertain times, and exercise extra caution when sharing confidential information.
"These include account numbers, bank card numbers, passwords, personal identification codes and security codes behind cards, with the need not to be deceived by fraudulent phone calls and messages that may target customers via SMS or social media," said Lieutenant General Abdullah Khalifa Al Marri, Lieutenant General of Dubai Police.