UAE police and banks warn over one-time password scam

Fraudsters attempt to get users to hand over OTPs so they can transfer money or buy goods online

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Authorities in the UAE have warned customers to never share one-time passwords with unidentified callers.

Abu Dhabi Police and fraud analysts at Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank (ADIB) said there has been a rise in fake online deals where scammers ask people to share their one-time passwords (OTP), also known as one-time pins.

Scammers pose as company officials and tell users to generate an OTP to claim cash prizes or update their bank details. Bogus shipment companies also ask for money for fake deliveries.

No authority, bank or any other company will ask you for your OTP. Do not share it. This is the only protection between you and fraudsters

OTP is an authentication tool that ensures security for financial transactions.

When buying anything online using a credit or debit card, net banking or e-wallet, an OTP is sent to a user’s phone or email.

This is the last level of authentication, but scammers often steal this password by infecting people’s phones with malware.

Fraudsters can access passwords once a person clicks on a link. And, once online scammers steal the OTP, it is very easy for money to be transferred.

“You should not engage with people when they ask you to give the OTP,” said Mohammed Issa Al Balushi, head of the fraud risk department at ADIB.

“No authority – bank or any other company – will ask you for your OTP. Do not share it. This is the only protection between you and fraudsters.”

Capt Mohammed Rashid Al Aryani, director of the anti-fraud branch at Abu Dhabi Police, said awareness can prevent such crimes.

Scammers often steal passwords by infecting people’s phones with malware.

He said scammers often ask people to update their bank details or send a WhatsApp message about a fake lottery prize.

“This is mainly so that they can get your OTP. As soon as you interact with the sender, they try to convince you to update your bank details to receive the prize,” Capt Al Aryani said.

“As soon you share your OTP, they gain complete control over your account and begin transferring your money to their account or start purchasing things online using your account.”

Emails that ask for shipment fees are some of the latest scams, he said.

“The email will ask you to pay a small fee for a shipment delivery. This is how it starts, as soon as the individual starts filling out the form with their bank details, the scam begins,” he said.

Residents are advised to check with family members if they are expecting a shipment and to check the tracking number before responding to such emails.

Authorities also warned against online messages promising discounts and offers.

“Fraudsters will set up fake internet pages and claim restaurant discounts and offers. Unfortunately, these discounts are fake,” Capt Al Aryani said.

“Lured by the deals, people will click on the link and enter their details. But as soon as they do, the bank will send the OTP.

“I remember one person telling me that they never imagined they would be scammed. They simply saw an offer that said that they would get two visa cards instead of one.”

Scammers also plead for financial assistance, officials said.

Messages can be sent to a victim's contact list asking for financial help. People make the mistake of clicking on the link in the WhatsApp message as it seems to be coming from a trusted person, Mr Al Balushi said.

He urged people to check the authenticity of such messages.