Massage card scams on the rise in UAE: How cops are clamping down on the menace

Six million massage cards have been seized across Dubai and several gangs have been busted in the emirate and in Sharjah



KT file photo
KT file photo
by

Afkar Ali Ahmed

Published: Sat 26 Nov 2022, 6:09 AM

Last updated: Sat 26 Nov 2022, 3:03 PM

Standfirst: Six million massage cards have been seized across Dubai and several gangs have been busted in the emirate and in Sharjah

No matter how dodgy those massage cards seemed — with all the obscene photos of women plastered all over them — many UAE residents still fall for the racket, the police have revealed in an interview with Khaleej Times.

The number of victims — some of whom were beaten, stripped down to their undergarments, filmed naked, and robbed at knifepoint — has been rising. And the police attributed the spike to two factors: Many of these people are too embarrassed to report such an incident. Others fear the legal implications of trying to get an illegal massage.

However, those who are brave enough to file a police complaint have horrifying stories to tell.

Hani, a restaurant manager in Abu Dhabi, was one such victim. During one of his trips to Dubai, he dialled up the number on a massage card he found on his car window.

"A woman with a soft voice answered the call and sent the location. When I arrived at the apartment, three African women forced me to enter and asked me to pay first. When I refused, I was assaulted," he told Khaleej Times.

Hani was beaten black and blue until he was forced to give them his bank PIN numbers. And when they found zero balance in his account, they threw him off a first-floor balcony. He reported the incident to the police, who then arrested the gang on the same day.

“I had sustained minor injuries and fractures but I now feel better. My message to all young people is this: Do not fall for the pictures on the cards —you won't meet those same women," he said.

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Police step up operations

The increase in such cases has prompted the police to step up a crackdown on the menace.

Six million massage cards have been seized across Dubai and over 900 contact numbers found on the ads were disconnected, the police said.

Several gangs have been busted in the emirate, as well as in Sharjah, thanks to victims who have lodged complaints at police stations.

A total of 879 people have been arrested in Dubai in connection with the crime, including 309 who were caught printing and distributing massage cards, and 588 who violated public morals.

The Sharjah Police are also keeping a close eye on gangs that could be running the racket in the emirate. Recently, five Asians were arrested for distributing cards.

A top official at the Crime Investigation Department (CID) said they have taken note of the rising number of cases.

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"However, it hasn't grown into a phenomenon yet. The CID will not tolerate any incidents that affect the safety and security of residents," the Sharjah Police officer said.

The emirate's Isnad patrols have been roaming around residential areas to monitor any suspicious activities.

"They have been on the lookout for gang members who dump massage cards on the streets or put them up on car windows at parking lots. The surveillance cameras installed in Sharjah buildings have also been a big help in detecting illegal activities," the officer added.

Brig Abdullah Khadem Al Maesam, Director of Police Stations in Dubai, reiterated a warning: Do not respond to massage advertisements on cards left on streets and vehicles. "Many victims have been exposed to assault, photographed in compromising situations, blackmailed, and got their bank accounts drained to the last dirham."

Racket operated online, too

One Indian expat who lives in Sharjah was robbed of nearly Dh47,000 after being attacked by a five-member gang.

It wasn't a massage card that led him to the gang's den, though. Rather, it was an advertisement on Facebook. He contacted the number on the ad via WhatsApp and was given a location.

"I turned up at a first-floor apartment in a multi-storied building near Sharjah's Safia Park around 4pm”, he said, “hoping to meet the same masseuse who had sent me her photos on WhatsApp".

No attractive masseuse was waiting for him. Instead, he was met by two men and three women who he said had a "murderous glare in their eyes".

"‘Give me all your money, or else I will kill you,’ threatened their ringleader as he pulled out a big knife and held it to my neck,” the expat said.

“I had only Dh250 with me. I offered to give it to them, but they mocked me and pushed me onto the bed. As the women laughed, one of the men pinned me down on the bed while the other removed my trousers.

"I watched helplessly as he dug into my pockets and took out my cell phone as well as my wallet, which contained Dh250 and four debit and credit cards."

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The gang leader forced him to disclose the PIN codes for all his cards. “You can’t say no to someone who’s got the blade of a knife inches away from your throat,” the expat said, adding that the one of the men then left with all his cards.

Three hours later, he was released and told he couldn't complain to the police because he would be jailed for seeking an illegal massage.

Another shock awaited him when he checked his bank accounts upon reaching home.

“I found out that they had withdrawn Dh46,505 from my cards from different locations in multiple transactions. I don’t have any money left. My bank account is zero and my credit limit has been maxxed out.”

He reported the incident to Buheirah Police Station which subsequently raided the apartment. It was found empty. The building’s watchman said another victim had called him earlier, claiming he was robbed of Dh400 when he visited the apartment for a massage.

Dial 901 to report incidents

Alongside an intensified crackdown on the racket, the police are also ramping up awareness drives.

Brig Jamal Salem Al Jallaf, director of the General Department of Criminal Investigations at the Dubai Police, said they have an ongoing campaign that warns the public against unlicensed massage parlours.

Police teams have been monitoring such scams, tracking down the operators of such unauthorised businesses.

Brig Al Jallaf urged the public and community members to dial 901 or use the 'Police Eye' service on Dubai Police smart App to report any shady activities.

Col Omar Abu Zoud, Director of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in Sharjah, assured that they will continue their campaigns to educate the public about the dangers and risks that are associated with this racket.

Penalties

Mohamed Ibrahim, an advocate at Dubai Court, said those caught distributing flyers and cards with images of nudity shall be jailed for a period not exceeding six months and fined Dh5,000, or both.

However, those who respond to massage card promotions could also face penalties, including a jail term of not less than a year, Ibrahim said.

Article 363 of the Penal Code also stipulated that whoever lures people into prostitution are likely to be imprisoned for a year in addition to a hefty fine.

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