Dubai Police issued a warning about unscrupulous maid recruitment agents after many lost the thousands of dirhams they handed over as hiring fees.
Fraudsters posed as recruitment agents on the internet and fleeced people of Dh9,000 to Dh13,000 with a promise to fly in a maid from abroad despite the travel restrictions.
Officials at Al Rashidiya Police Station received 14 reports about people falling prey to such cyber criminals.
The demand for housemaids has gone up during the pandemic as more people stay home to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
After several such cases were reported, Dubai Police set up a special task force and arrested the suspects.
"These fraudsters fleeced Dh87,520 from the victims from the beginning of the pandemic until February 2021. They promised many people to bring housemaids to the UAE even when airports were shut down in different parts of the world," said Brig Saeed Hamad Al Malik, director of Al Rashidiya Police Station.
“One case was of a family that was looking to hire three maids and transferred Dh35,000 to a fraudster. He disappeared after getting the money.
“Legal action was taken against all of them."
He said fake recruiters forge contracts under the name of a registered labour recruitment agency.
Brig Al Malik urged people to go through official channels and bring maids into the country legally.
Munawar Hamza, 50, from Jordan said she was about to pay Dh10,000 to a fake agent to get a housemaid.
“I posted on Facebook because I wanted a maid who was already inside the country but wishing to change sponsors. I didn’t expect I might fall victim to a fraudster,” she said.
Ms Hamza said a woman who claimed to work for a recruitment agency reached out to her and promised to recruit a maid for a lower fee.
“I was told official agencies charge around Dh18,000 but the fake agent said it would only cost me Dh10,000,” she said.
But the recruiter stopped taking Ms Hamza’s calls when she wanted to meet the maid.
In January, Nasser Al Hamli, Minister of Human Resources and Emiratisation, told members of the Federal National Council that the UAE would shut all non-government maid-hiring agencies by March to better protect the rights of workers and employers.
He said citizens and residents would have to hire domestic workers from Tadbeer, a network of service centres.
Mr Al Hamli said 250 private recruitment agencies had been shut down and “the remaining 10 offices will be closed in March”.
Tadbeer recruitment offices were set up by the ministry in 2018 and there are 54 nationwide.
Mr Al Hamli said it was the responsibility of Tadbeer offices to hire workers from abroad.
The ministry has not renewed the licences of private companies since 2017 and has fined 99 agencies that continued to operate after their permits were suspended.
But officials said that agencies in free zones would not be affected by the decision. It is not known how many agencies trade in such zones, nor whether companies would be allowed to relocate there.