Crime and Courts

German expat in Dubai loses Dh45,000 to phishing attack

Dhanusha Gokulan and Hesham Salah/Dubai
Filed on April 20, 2021

Timna Sophia had set aside the money to buy a car during Ramadan.

Timna Sophia, 32, a German expatriate, felt the ground open up before her on April 10. Soon, she was overcome with horror, trauma, despair, and vulnerability.

Sophia’s woes started after she was defrauded of Dh45,000 from her bank account by a sophisticated phishing attack.

She recounted her ordeal with Khaleej Times on Tuesday.

Fraudsters spent an hour on the phone with Sophia and managed to convince her that her debit card had become dysfunctional because of the raging Covid-19 pandemic.

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They used ingenious methods to authenticate their fraudulent ways such as sending her verified text messages from Dubai Police and even sent her a package of a new debit card through a reputed courier and logistical company.

The scamsters engaged her in a conversation, hacked into her bank account and added themselves as a new beneficiary to her Internet banking account. She lost her savings no sooner was the new beneficiary account added.

'I lost my entire inheritance sum'

The amount in her bank account is part of the inheritance sum she had received from her father in February. “My father passed away in July last year after suffering from cancer. He spent his entire life working for the German automobile company Mercedes-Benz,” said Sophia.

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Since her father passed away at the height of Covid-19-induced lockdown restrictions, she could not meet him for one last time because of a bar on travelling.

“Finally, I got permission to travel to Germany on a Monday last year. Unfortunately, he passed away the previous night,” she said.

She reminisced how her father had painstakingly set aside the inheritance sum through the years.

“He kept aside a part of his income every month as savings for my brother and me. I had planned to buy a car with that amount during the holy month of Ramadan. Now, my plan stands shattered,” she added.

Dubai Police are investigating the case.

Lieutenant Khaled Mohammed Barakat Banasser, an official at the Smart Police Stations Investigation Operations, Dubai Police, told Khaleej Times that the fraudster stole almost all of her savings, leaving only Dh50 in her bank account.

Fraudsters' modus-operandi

Sophia, a nanny to a British family in Dubai, has been a Dubai resident for the past six years. “I’m aware of these scam calls, as I’ve been living here long enough. However, I never thought I’d fall victim to this kind of scam,” she said.

However, when fraudsters targeted her, Sophia couldn’t separate the chaff from the grain.

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On April 10, she received a four-digit activation key from the courier company. “Soon, I got a call from a Dubai number, which claimed to be a caller from the Commercial Bank of Dubai (CBD),” she said.

The scamsters took advantage of the contagion, she added.

“The caller took my 16-digit debit card number and asked me for the three-digit card verification value (CVV) printed on the back of my card,” she added.

Though Sophia was hesitant to hand over the sensitive and personal information, her fears were allayed soon.

She received verified text messages from Dubai Police.

“Besides, the caller was a smooth talker. He was professional, proficient in English and sent me several verifying documents, including the Emirates identity (ID) number. To make matters worse, the WhatsApp messages I got from him in the course of the conversation were from verified business accounts,” she said.

Sophia said the fraudsters manipulated her into sharing the CVV number and her online banking user ID.

The scamsters hacked into her account and added themselves as beneficiaries. “Initially, they transferred Dh25,000 from my account into another CBD account and later Dh20,000 to a Mashreq Bank account,” she added.

Watch out for scammers offering domestic services

Sophia could do precious little after she realised that she had fallen for the bait hook, line and sinker.

‘Scamsters played mind games’

“I tried logging into my account, but I was blocked out. After two attempts, I logged in only to realise all my money is gone,” said a distraught Sophia. “Immediately, I lodged a complaint with Dubai Police, called the bank,” she added.

She has been constantly following up with Dubai Police in her bid to get her defrauded sum back.

Lieutenant Banasser explained the modus-operandi.

“Usually, the fraudsters use the number of the victim on Dubai Police’s website to generate a One Time Password (OTP), while talking to the victim at the same time. When the victim sees that Dubai Police have shared the OTP, the person feels safe while revealing details. But never share an OTP as no police or bank official will ever ask for such personal and sensitive information,” he said.

He also pointed out that banks by and large stop large transactions until a customer confirms it.

He added that unfortunately that process was not followed during the two separate transactions in case of Sophia. “The case is under investigation,” he said.

Many banks in the UAE cooperate with Dubai Police to prevent such fraudulent transactions, and some of them even suspend the transactions if it would appear to be suspicious.

He urged the public never to reveal their bank details to strangers, as none but only fraudsters would ask for such personal and sensitive information.

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