'I lost everything': UAE resident’s life savings of Dh200,000 wiped out by phone scammers

In just 24 minutes, her account was drained and the money was sent to three different accounts

by

Nasreen Abdulla

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Published: Wed 24 Jan 2024, 10:21 AM

Last updated: Fri 26 Jan 2024, 11:25 AM

Portuguese cabin crew M.S. had been saving up for over two years with the dream of returning home. But a simple error of judgement caused her to lose her life savings of almost Dh200,000 to phone scammers. “I was saving up because I wanted to resign and go home,” she said, speaking to Khaleej Times, on condition of anonymity. “But instead, I lost everything.”

A resident of Dubai for over four years, M.S. had heard enough about scammers and phone scams. So much that she wouldn’t even pick up calls from unknown numbers. However, on that fateful day, she said that scammers caught her at a time when she had just returned from a long night flight and was so exhausted that she could not even think straight.

“I was expecting a call from a friend who was visiting from my home country,” she said. “That is the only reason why I picked up the call from an unknown number. I had been sleeping after my night flight and they caught me at a time when I was the most vulnerable.”

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How the scam unfolded

The call started off with the scammers explaining to M.S. that she had won a prize of Dh150,000 due to a collaboration between a bank and a major exchange house in the UAE. She had been at that exchange house the previous day. They coerced her into updating her bank app to the latest version, saying she needed it to claim her prize. During the process, she was tricked into revealing her login details and password for the app.

“Now that I say it out loud, I cannot believe how stupid I was,” she said. “But at the time, it was almost like I was hypnotised. They asked me for the login details to process the prize from their end. They said since it was a huge amount, they needed my details to deposit it in my account. Not only was I very tired and my brain not working properly, but the scammers had intimate knowledge of the app. They were also very persuasive and kept me speaking to them.”

Once they secured the login details, the callers kept M.S. busy for the next 15 minutes giving her reference numbers and asking her to write it down. “In hindsight, I realise that they were keeping me busy so that I would not check my phone and see the bank notifications,” she said.

Over the course of the next 24 minutes, her account was drained and her money was sent to three different accounts. As she was on the phone call, she did not realise that money was being debited from her account until it had been emptied.

Dh150,000 was transferred from her savings account to someone named Md Abu Sufian. A further Dh8,800 from her savings account and Dh23,000 from her current account was transferred to someone named Suraj Saroj. A sum of Dh8,990 was transferred from her credit card to a person called Deepak Chauhan.

Feeling shame

Once she realised that she had been left penniless, M.S. rushed to the bank and then to the police station. “At first a bank representative said that the money had been transferred to another account and it would be easy to recover it,” she said. “However, they found that all the money had been immediately withdrawn.”

For a week after the scam, M.S. didn’t talk about it to anyone. “I was just so ashamed of myself,” she said. “I knew people would judge me so much. Everyone knew about scams. How could I have been so stupid?”

At one point, she sat in a police station and broke down. “The policemen refused to let me leave unless I got someone to pick me up because they were worried about me,” she said. “That is when I called a friend and told her what happened. She then turned out to be my biggest supporter. She helped me draft emails to the bank and Central Bank. She came with me many times to various places.”

A representative for the bank has confirmed to the Khaleej Times that the bank has “provided her with the necessary clarifications regarding her claim” and has assisted her “to the fullest extent”.

She revealed that her actions were termed as gross negligence, meaning there is little to no chance for her to recover her money.

Silver lining

However, the hardest part for M.S. was to tell her parents. “I didn’t want to tell them because I knew they would be heartbroken,” she said. “But I was going to a therapist who forced me to tell them.”

Their reaction was unexpected. “They immediately booked a flight and flew down here to be with me,” she said. “Before this incident, I was not very close to my parents. In fact, I don’t even remember the last time my father said that he loves me. But now, he tells me every day how much he loves me and how he is proud of me. That is the only silver lining to come out of this ordeal.”

However, M.S. still has several questions. “I never willingly disclosed my Smartpass PIN,” she said. “At no point did I authorise any transaction or add the beneficiaries' names or amounts. I did not authorise the money transfer, and there was no additional authentication required. Why was the two-factor authentication not used?”

While she does not have much hope of getting her money back, M.S. wants her story to be a lesson to others. “I replay that day in my head every time,” she said. “I wish I had done something different or said something different. But there is nothing I can do now. I just hope it is a warning to others. Scammers are getting more technologically advanced. Beware and do not trust anyone.”

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