The Wireless Ways of Fly-by-night Operators

Martin Croucher
Filed on August 26, 2009

DUBAI Mobile phones and email addresses of UAE residents have come under a deluge of scams. Hasan Al Nashash was expecting to meet a fellow Canadian professor in Dubai to discuss his academic research. Instead, he got a desperate plea for
financial assistance from the airport.

The man calling himself Dr Al Awaidi said he had lost his plane tickets and passport.

“I was thinking humanely and I wanted to help this person if I could,” said Al Nashash, a professor of electrical engineering in Sharjah.

However, minutes before he was to have wired the money, he received a call from the chairman of a regional academic body, who confirmed that none by the name of Al Awaidi was registered with them.

“I was 100 metres away from the desk where I was going to wire the money to him,” he said.

“He was talking to me a few days earlier about the technical areas of my research and sounded completely professional. I had no reason to assume that he was a conman.”

Al Nashash said that he heard that a few months later a colleague had fallen victim to the same ruse and sent the money. Officials have vowed to crack down on the problem. Last year, residents were cheated out of Dh150,000 by confidence tricksters, police said in May. The Ministry of Interior announced last week that it would be circulating pamphlets to raise awareness of the problem.

However, experts believe that the fraudsters are becoming more sophisticated in a bid to cheat wary customers out of their cash.

“People get hundreds of spam emails every week,” said Dr Fadi Aloul, Assistant Professor of Computer Engineering at the American University ofSharjah.

“A few fraudsters are now going to great lengths to try and con people.”

Last month, a reporter from theKhaleej Times received a spam email that was apparently signed by a well-known doctor from a respected Dubai hospital.

The email claimed that a patient named Lena Morrison was close to death and was looking to bequeath Dh17 million to an American citizen, who will use the funds for “humanitarian assistance”.

However, when contacted the doctor denied that he had any links to the email. “This has absolutely nothing to do with him,” said a spokesman for the hospital, who asked that neither the hospital’s nor the doctor’s namebe used.turn to

“By using his name and the logo from the hospital’s website, it shows how far some people are willing to go.”

The spokesman said that the email was surprising because it used a real person’s name rather than a fictitious one.

Many emails asking for a bank account to send large amounts of money to, operate under a common formula, said Aloul.

“They will say that they have $10 million and you can take a 10 per cent cut if they can use your bank account to transfer the funds,” he said.

“If you reply back, they will ask you to provide $1,000 to transfer the fees. If you pay the $1,000, most probably you will never see them again.”

Common text message scams in Dubai offer victims monetary prizes in exchange for Dh1,000 worth of mobile phone credit.

Common email and text message scams play on people’s desire to make large sums of money, said Khalil Ibrahim Al Mansouri, director of CID at Dubai Police.

“The people here should be alert enough and never be tempted by illegal scams to make money,” he said.

However confidence scams, like that played against Al Nashash, manipulate people’s friendship or good will.

More often than not, they result in more than just a financial loss.

“I definitely am less trusting of people now,” said Al Nashash. “I would still help someone if they were in need, but I’d have to check it out beforehand to make sure they were genuine.”

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