The Sharjah hustle: Con men blackmail expats over booze
The bump-and-blackmail scam is alive and well in Sharjah, say authorities.
Unsuspecting expats, fearing legal troubles for transporting personal amounts of alcohol in their vehicles, are still being blackmailed by criminals in Sharjah for huge sums of cash, confirm police.
While the extent and frequency of the scam isn’t known, police say that con artists have been fleecing expats for more than a decade by following them from shopping trips to alcohol shops, legal and otherwise, then bump the car of the victims to fake a minor accident to get them to stop.
Once the expat is out of his car at the so-called accident scene, con artists threaten to tell police that the expat is illegally transporting and possessing alcohol in Sharjah where alcohol is illegal.
Criminals tell the expat they will keep quiet for a large wad of cash to avoid long jail times and big fines in the dry emirate.
An Indian expatriate identified as R.L., 35, told Gulf News in an interview that he fell victim to the blackmailers on November 4.
He paid Dh1,000 ($272.26) to a group of youngsters which hit his vehicle over Al Taawun bridge in Sharjah when he was returning from Dubai after buying alcohol.
The expat vowed that he would “never again buy liquor from Dubai and transport it through Sharjah” after the incident.
Possessing liquor is against the law in Sharjah whereas in Dubai it is legal to possess or consume alcohol with a valid licence.
Many Dubai residents who do not have a licence to buy alcohol, procure it from several unlicensed watering holes, including a vendor in Ajman.
The expatriate said that he was stopped by three young men in their 20s who threatened to call the police if he did not pay them Dh7,000 ($1906). The men were travelling in a black SUV and their vehicle had a Dubai number plate.
“At around 3.30am I set off from an alcohol store in Dubai and just as I reached Al Taawun bridge in Sharjah, I felt a bump on the back of my car.
“Three men got out of the car behind, stood on the pavement and pretended to call the police. The seriousness of the situation did not strike me.”
“One of the men came up to me and said the hit on my bumper did not look that bad, then he shouted to me and said ‘you are drunk, stay far away from me, you have an awful smell’. They told me that if the police came to know about it, I would be put in jail and would have to pay a hefty fine. I had heard about such set-up jobs earlier. They then asked for Dh7,000 ($1906) if I did not want police to come .”
The expat said he wasn’t carrying that much cash.
“I asked him if he was doing it on purpose and one of them got angry and told me he did not need my money and began talking to someone on the phone in Arabic.”
After one hour of bargaining, the sum was finally brought down to Dh1,000 ($272.26). The expat said one of the men took his business card and told him that he would phone him the next day to pay the rest of the money.
Meanwhile, Sharjah Police said anyone found blackmailing victims for cash in these scams will face the full weight of the law and will be referred to the public prosecution for further action.
These scams have been recorded by Sharjah Police for more than a decade and police have arrested numerous criminals working the bump-and-blackmail scam.
By Aghaddir Ali