The growing business of fraud
Scams are a growing business. It is estimated that scammers make off with $2.92 billion from Americans and 3.5 billion pounds from Britons every year.
These are just estimates and I think the actual numbers are higher, considering that the people behind these scams are an innovative bunch.
New research finds that the economic climate is inspiring fraudsters to come up with new tricks to fool people into parting with their hard-earned money.
A report by Citizens Advice, one of the organisations in the UK that have designated the month of May the “Scams Awareness Month”, indicates that more fraudsters are now preying on ordinary people looking for a job, loan, accommodation and training.
The report talks about consumers who have been left worse off because of scams. One example is a jobseeker in England who got fooled into transferring nearly Dh6,000 to a scammer who posed as a prospective employer.
While it enjoys a reputation for its low crime rate, Dubai is no stranger to scams, with residents losing higher amounts of money to fraudulent transactions. Only last year, a number of tenants, many of them were looking to spend less on housing rent, lost Dh80 million to fake landlords.
Scams that take advantage of people desperate to find a job is nothing new.
Let’s take a quick look at other types of cons I have personally encountered in the UAE.
This is one of the oldest yet still thriving tricks of the trade. You get approached by a colleague promising to help you get rich by signing up to an entrepreneurial scheme. All you have to do is put some money down and recruit new people. The more members you convince to sign up, the more rewards you will get. You will hear pretty convincing rags-to-riches stories from “pioneering” members who have reaped huge windfalls, including luxury cars and villas. However, our friends at Citizens Advice say this scheme is illegal, as it is often that only a “tiny minority make money and everyone else loses.
You receive an SMS, email, or phone call informing you that you have been chosen as the winner in a raffle draw done in the UK or US, but you can’t recall you ever purchased a ticket or registered your details with a company outside Dubai. The catch is that for you to claim your prize, you will need to transfer some funds to pay for “processing” or “administration” expenses.
This is pretty much one of the most common schemes out there. Every now and then I still get a long, unsolicited email from a total stranger offering to transfer some cash that obviously doesn’t exist. The letter-sender would introduce himself as a “top official” of some state-run agency trying to free up millions of funds “trapped” in Nigeria. If you happen to read a similar email and take the bait, your “generous” Nigerian will ask you to send money to cover incidental expenses and never hear from him again.
On several occasions, I’ve had some missed calls from weird international numbers. I’ve traced one of them, a New Zealand number, and it turned out there were other mobile phone users who were contacted by the same anonymous caller. Experts say that if you call back, you will likely be told that you won a lottery and that you need to send money to facilitate the prize release process.
There are many more modus operandi of fraudsters to watch out for. Here are some tips from Citizens Advice on how to avoid falling prey:
- If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- If you haven’t bought a ticket - you can’t win it.
- You shouldn’t have to pay anything to get a prize.
- When in doubt, don’t reply. Trash it, delete it or hang up.
- Persuasive sales patter? Just say “No, thank you.”
- Be suspicious if you’re contacted out of the blue.
- Don’t give away your bank details unless you are sure you can trust the person you’re dealing with.
- Take your time. Resist the pressure to make a decision straight away.
- Don’t send money to someone you don’t know.
- Stay away from job ads that ask for money in advance.