UAE victims of bank fraud describe shock of losing cash to criminals

Some victims are able to claim the money back but others are still out of pocket

Aisha Alkhaja fell victim to banking fraud in November 2018. Courtesy: Aisha Alkhaja
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UAE victims of bank fraud have described the shock of losing tens of thousands of dirhams from their accounts.

Residents said the crimes left them feeling vulnerable as well as out of pocket after being forced to pay interest on the stolen amounts.

Over the last three years, more than 800 cases of bank fraud have been reported to the authorities in Dubai.

Late last month, police in the emirate urged all victims of cyber-crimes to come forward and give details on the incident on their e-crime website.

Hazel Whitehead, from the UK, explained how she became a victim of bank fraud in June this year.

Days after returning from a trip to the US, she was alerted by text message of suspicious activity on her credit card.

“Every month I get the same text message from my bank telling me how much I need to pay off the balance,” she said. “It’s usually around Dh4,000.”

But on this occasion, the amount was Dh42,000 – more than 10 times the usual figure.

“It was taken out in one go,” she revealed. “I always thought such large transactions needed to be verified by the bank.”

Ms Whitehead traced the withdrawal to an online insurance firm in the US, a company she had no dealings with. No pin number or one-time pin (OTP) code was requested to approve the transaction.

“That was reason enough to argue [for] an immediate refund,” she said. “I blocked the card but had to fill out a dispute form with the bank.”

Following a 90-day investigation, all the money was returned to Ms Whitehead’s account. However, she was unable to recoup Dh1,800 in interest fees paid, which was levied against the stolen amount.

According to a report by Mimecast, a firm specialising in the protection of corporate email accounts, 77 per cent of phishing scam victims in the UAE last year had money or valuable data stolen.

Of the 1,000 global IT organisations surveyed by the company, 67 per cent reported an increase in identity fraud.

Following a trip to Ukraine, Briton Benjamin Brookes also fell victim to fraud.

He received a text alert in the early hours of the morning from his bank, days after returning to Dubai.

“I was lying in bed at around 3am and my phone started to ping,” he said.

“I checked the message and was confused. It showed a real-time transaction from somewhere in Kiev.

“A second message came through showing another withdrawal, so I called my bank straight away.”

About Dh3,000 was debited from his account within minutes, before he could cancel his card.

Fortunately, after filling out a dispute form and proving he was in Dubai at the time, a bank investigation concluded he was a victim of fraud and returned the money.

The process is not always so straightforward, however. In November last year, Dubai resident Aisha Alkhaja fell victim to a similar attack.

After receiving a secure code via text message for an online transfer she did not action, she contacted her bank.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates, August 24, 2019.  - Victim of fraud, Ben Brooks at his Dubai Marina residence.
Victor Besa/The National
Section:  NA
Reporter:  Kelly Clarke
Fraud victim Benjamin Brookes had Dh3,000 wiped from his account. Victor Besa/The National

“While I was on the phone another notification came through, then another,” she said.

Within minutes, three transactions of Dh5,675 were transferred from her account to a London-based company.

“Luckily the bank blocked my card before any more money was withdrawn,” she said.

Despite filling out a dispute form, her claim was rejected by the bank. “They said I entered the verification code,” she said. “I did not, so I had to escalate the case to the police.”

Nine months on, the investigation is still ongoing and Ms Alkhaja is more than Dh17,000 out of pocket.

“It’s frustrating because it’s a lot of money. The police officer suggested that SIM cards are being cloned and bank staff are working with telecommunication staff to steal money,” she said.

Although she cannot verify if that is what happened in her case, Ms Alkhaja has stopped using her old phone number and registered a new one.

It's frustrating because it's a lot of money

In a similar incident to Ms Alkhaja’s case, Layla Horrobin had Dh2,503 withdrawn six times from her account within minutes in April.

“My bank actually alerted me and asked if I had approved the transaction – I hadn’t,” she said.

“I was also told no OTP code had been issued to authorise the transaction.”

With the cash withdrawn, Ms Horrobin was forced to fill in a dispute form with First Abu Dhabi Bank, and 85 days later she is still no further forward with her claim.

“I call my bank twice a week to no avail. The branch manager himself said he thinks the card was cloned but I’m now more than Dh15,000 down,” she said.