Sharjah Police have launched an awareness campaign about the dangers of cyber crime after a sharp increase in the number of victims.
The force said cyber criminals are becoming more sophisticated and using official organisations and well-known brands to entrap unsuspecting victims.
UK technology comparison website Comparitech said cybercrime in the UAE cost $746 million a year. It said the UAE had recorded 166,667 victims of cyber crime, based on information gathered between 2018 and 2020.
Last year, cyber-security experts said they witnessed a surge in the number of fraudulent schemes involving fake deliveries and WhatsApp messages.
Abu Dhabi Police in February said they returned about Dh18 million ($4.9m) to victims of phone fraud and other cyber crimes.
Increase in cyber crime
At the launch of its 'Be Aware: Stop, Think, Protect' campaign, Sharjah Police said there has been a 70 per cent increase in cyber crimes in the past two years.
Officers will meet local residents at the emirate’s City Centre Al Zahia to give them advice on how to protect themselves in Arabic, English, Urdu and Russian languages through a pop-up booth in the shopping centre.
The force will also use its social media platforms to reach a wider, online audience.
The campaign is aimed at helping people identify when they are being targeted by cyber criminals.
One of the most common forms of cyber crime is phishing, where people open attachments from unofficial sources or click on unknown links.
In May, customers of Dubai Electric and Water Authority received a warning about phishing after reports of fraudulent messages sent by social media and email.
The scheme involved bogus messages that asked people to pay their bills, answer questions or forward the messages to friends to be in with a chance of winning a prize.
Phishing and ransomware attacks have been on the rise since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
A report in 2020 by computer security analysts Kaspersky recorded more than 600,000 phishing attacks at the height of the pandemic in the UAE alone.
“People need to double-check the URL, which is the address of the online source, because criminals tend to change one letter here or there in the URL,” said Staff Sgt Nouf Alharmoodi, information technology expert with Sharjah Police.
“Avoid clicking any links you receive in emails before double-checking they are legitimate and from genuine sources.”
She said people who click on a phishing link and receive messages about money being withdrawn from their accounts should immediately contact their banks to block the payments.
“If they didn’t become aware of the scam sooner, it will be harder to recover the money,” said Sgt Alharmoodi.
Members of the public are also urged to contact the department for reports and information through their WhatsApp number 0559992158, their 24-hour hotline 065943228 or by email on: tech_crimes@Shjpolice.gov.ae
In recent months, Sharjah Police have been dealing with several reports from residents who received emails impersonating familiar brands.
“Such reports have increased recently and in most of them criminals have been impersonating well-known brands such Aramex, Emirates Post, McDonald's and Papa Jones,” said Ms Alharmoodi.
“In some of the scamming emails, Aramex is written Arramex.
“In other emails impersonating Emirates Post, people are being told they have a pending shipment and they need to pay an amount of Dh12.”
After they click and make a payment, the amount withdrawn from their accounts could be in tens of thousands of dirhams, police said.
“In other scams, workers searching Google for McDonald’s to buy a meal, for example, only type the name of the restaurant in the search bar,” said Ms Alharmoodi.
“The results are often of fake sites offering discounted meals which they click and lose their money.”
Other reports that have increased recently involve people reporting their SnapChat accounts being hacked.
“There is an increase in the number of hacking incidents in general and, in particular, in SnapChat accounts.”
The one-month public awareness scheme also focuses on children by introducing them to a number of board games such as scrambled words, snakes and ladders and sentence building.
“The games introduce a little information about online fraud and encourage children to ask about it,” said Ms Alharmoodi.
“When they start asking, we are here to answer all their questions and guide them on what to do should they ever be subjected to an online scam.”