Con artists in the United Arab Emirates continue to grow bolder and are now making use of scare tactics in order to trick unsuspecting targets into giving away their money, with many gullible Emiratis losing hundreds of thousands of dirhams, according to authorities.

According to the UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) Information Security Analyst Abdullah Buali, phone scammers are now making direct calls to people or sending them a message on WhatsApp, falsely suggesting that their ATM or credit cards have been blocked and that the problem can only be fixed by calling a particular number. Buali issued the warning on Thursday during a live Khaleej Timespodcast, which is part of the TRA and the Khaleej Times’ social media campaign on cybersecurity and digital awareness. 

Buali says that scammers often claim that the reason why the credit cards have been blocked is that the user has not updated their information, and a lot of residents have fallen for the scam and given out sensitive personal details such as the fail-safe one-time password (OTP) that is given to bank customers. Buali warns that the numbers are usually from “off the grid” places and are not toll-free, meaning instant charges for the caller and therefore making it crucial not to call the scammers back. The number can be blocked, but fraudulent activities such as these should be reported, Buali says, adding that the authorities are working very closely with the TRA in order to try to crack down on the fraudsters. 

According to the TRA official, any suspicious calls should be reported to the toll-free and non-emergency 901 number or people can alternatively register a complaint online at Buali adds that updates and other such information are never requested over the phone by real banks or credit card companies and that complaining about the calls is vital as the authorities can do nothing about such scams if they have not been made aware of them. As many as 25 people, all of whom are believed to be from different gangs, were recently arrested by police for their involvement in phone call fraud that has been in operation in Ajman and Sharjah. 

In April 2019, police in the UAE also carried out a huge bust of phone fraudsters that were promising cash prizes to residents, asking them to transfer their phone recharge credit, in return for which they would receive prize money that did not actually exist. In June, the Khaleej Timesjoined the Emirates NBD and Dubai Police in the effort to quash the phone scammers in its #SecureYourAccount campaign to encourage people to become more aware.

The number of cases of cybercrime within the UAE has been on the increase over the course of the last few years, according to the police, and this latest scam asking for credit card numbers in order to unblock the cards is merely the latest iteration. 

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