Cases of electronic fraud are on the rise across the UAE, a leading judge has warned.
Judge Ayman Abdul Hakam, former head of the one-day court in Dubai, said the country’s strong economy and diversity of residents made it an obvious target for cyber-criminals.
He said criminals operating from inside the country and abroad were constantly seeking new ways to take advantage of unsuspecting victims.
Common deceptions included using bogus email addresses similar to genuine, well-established companies to trick users into giving away valuable information.
“These relatively new types of crimes have increased significantly,” said the judge, who serves on Dubai's misdemeanour court.
“I’ve heard of cases where defendants create email addresses similar to those of real companies to commit fraud.
“The difference in email addresses could be just a single dot which victims wouldn’t even notice or care to look for.
“Criminals also post bogus adverts on popular websites promoting goods or offering units for lease which don’t exist.”
Earlier this year, Abu Dhabi Police warned social media users of fraudulent messages, especially on WhatsApp, which can be an attractive target for criminals.
Text scams include fake trademarks and untrusted sites seeking personal information such as user names, passwords and credit card numbers.
Using WhatsApp application activation codes, fraudsters are able to hack accounts. They prey on people by texting them, then luring them in a phone call to deliver their code.
Once in full control of the WhatsApp accounts, fraudsters later hoax their victims by enticing them to win fake prizes and posing as institutions, such as ADCB or Expo 2020, that appear legitimate.
The rapid rise of online shopping across the Emirates has also put many consumers in the sights of scammers.
A 2017 cyber-security insights report by security experts Norton revealed UAE shoppers lost more than Dh321 million at the hands of fraudsters, with a quarter of victims having their financial details compromised as a result.
The Norton report also found consumers spent an average of 22.4 hours dealing with the consequences of financial information that was compromised while shopping online.
The wide-ranging study found that 978 million people across the world fell victim to cyber-crime in 2017.
The report found that more than half the adult population in the UAE fell victim to cyber-crime last year, each losing an average of Dh669.
Consumers put themselves at risk by using the same password on multiple online accounts, the report stated.
Aside from cases of electronic fraud, Judge Hakam said many of the cases he dealt with at the one-day court involved either petty theft or overstaying visas.
Col Ibrahim Al Ajel, director of Sharjah’s criminal investigation department, also warned people to be wary of the threat posed by online fraud.
“This year, we received three reports of such cases in one day and 90 until now,” he said.
He revealed university students were often the target of online tricksters and also urged parents to pay close attention to their children’s online activities as they could also be taken in.
He also called on people to report online suspicious activities by calling 065943228 or e-mailing to email@example.com.
“If more people come forward and report cases, scammers will be less willing to continue to target victims.”
He said there are no accurate statistics of such crimes as many victims were reluctant to report them due to feeling so embarrassed at being fooled.
“One victim lost Dh2 million in an online extortion case and he did not report it until it was too late because he felt ashamed,” he said.