Phone scammers who call people claiming they have won cash prizes don’t distinguish between their targets — even if it is the cybersecurity chief of Dubai Police.
In an exclusive interview with Khaleej Times, Col. Saeed M. Al Hajri, Director of Cybercrime Department at Dubai Police, narrated an incident where fraudsters tried to dupe him and how he outsmarted them.
“Someone called me from a mobile number and said he is from the Central Bank. He used the same old trick saying I have won a huge prize and it is my last chance to win it. Obviously, he did not have any idea who he was talking to.”
The fraudster on the other side of the phone asked the officer for his credit card details without knowing that he was trying to trick none other than the Dubai top cop tasked to nab criminals like him.
“I played along and pretended to believe him. I rattled off some false numbers when he asked for my credit card and pin number. He kept trying to enter those details into a system with no luck. I kept wasting his time till he finally hung up in frustration,” said Al Hajri, who has been combatting cybercrime and financial fraud-related crime in Dubai for over 25 years.
When asked whether he nabbed the criminal later, Al Hajri said his department is ever vigilant, but it is tough to catch the phone scamsters when they operate from different parts of the world.
“The number may appear as a local one. But these gangs are operating from other countries.”
He said Dubai Police acts on every complaint regarding suspicious online behaviour. “Whether it is a tip off, intel, a complaint, we have different strategies to deal with them.”
Criminal gangs specialising in phone scams have been active in recent years and authorities have nabbed many.
In May last year, Dubai Police arrested 33 fraudsters for targeting residents with fraudulent calls. In one case, 19 Asian men were arrested in a raid by police in early June.
Between 2019 and February 2020, Abu Dhabi Police revealed 13 phone scam gangs involving 142 people were arrested.
The scamsters' modus operandi is simple. They contact the victims pretending to be bank employees, and urge them to share their bank account or credit card details to prevent freezing of the account.
After getting the details, the scammers use it to steal the victims' money. Some gangs pretend to be immigration employees and ask people to pay up to avoid cancellation of their residency permits. Many fall into the trap after being promised false cash prizes.
The Colonel said phone scams are prevalent, as they are a petty crime “anyone can do from anywhere”.
“The best way to tackle this is for people to be aware of these scams. When you get a call, you should be psychologically ready to deal with it. Under no circumstances should you divulge your credit card details and personal information to a stranger on the phone or online,” said Al Hajri.