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Covid-19: Cyber patrols stepped up as criminals target gullible UAE residents online

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Cyber criminals are on the prowl to pounce on their targets as never before as the Covid-19 pandemic gives them a golden opportunity to go full throttle in their nefarious designs. And as they do so, the Sharjah Police are leaving no stone unturned to catch the fraudsters. Cyber patrols have been stepped up to combat their vicious activities and eliminate all e-crimes and abuse.

A top official at the Sharjah Police said the cyber criminals mostly target low-income workers and families.

Main cases

The most rampant cases are the fake prize scams, in which the fraudsters send text messages or call their targets telling them that they have won a huge cash award. They then prod the victims to share their bank details so the ‘prize money’ can be transferred to their accounts. After getting the confidential information, the scamsters withdraw the funds.

Promotion of prohibited narcotic substances and other illegal products through fake websites and social media accounts comes a close second, the top cop said.

Another modus operandi of fraudsters is to send messages – posing as security men or cops – to victims through WhatsApp, warning them that it has been found that they have been accessing prohibited and unauthorised websites. They then tell them to pay money to avoid getting arrested, said Abdullah Al Zarouni from Information Security at the Telecommunication Regulatory Authority. He added that the fraudsters target youths as they are the ones using smartphones the most.

Sometimes, the swindlers pose as bank employees, communicating with victims to inform them that they have obtained the approval of cash funds. On the pretext of completing the process and activating the rest of the procedure, they coax them to provide personal data, such as their ID cards and their bank account numbers with the confidential details, he added. The next thing the victims know is that they have been conned.

In some cases, cyber criminals send emails to victims, offering them travel tickets or accommodations in hotels and other services at very cheap prices.

Report fraud immediately

These activities have taken an upswing as Covid-19 has spawned increased screen time and restricted the movement of people, the top official of Sharjah Police pointed out. “Fraudsters cash in on the ignorance of gullible people and trap them in their ugly schemes.”

He stressed on the need for people to freeze their bank accounts as soon as it is discovered that they have been victims of a scam, and report the case to police stations. “The speedy reporting of the perpetrators helps the authorities to track them down and seize the money they have stolen,” he said.

The official pointed out that the police cyber patrols have detected that many fraudsters are operating from outside the country. The police departments have communicated with countries – in which these activities are being carried out – through official channels, such as the Interpol, which tracks down the criminals, to arrest and prosecute them. “Victims must report the case even if the fraudster is outside the country and the police will use their protocols to arrest them,” he said.

The official warned against dealing with websites and social media accounts managed by suspicious networks outside the country.

SCAM ALERT: DON’T FALL FOR THESE

>Fake prizes touted by callers impersonating employees of reputed firms

>Social media platforms used to advertise narcotics and fake goods

>Bogus cops extorting money from Netizens for ‘accessing unauthorised websites’

>Non-existent travel tickets or hotel stays being offered

HOW TARGETS ARE CHOSEN

>Instagram and WhatsApp are the most prominent platforms that the fraudsters target

>Some become soft targets as they publish photos that reflect their affluence

>Some victims also announce their travel dates, which serve as a giveaway for the fraudsters to plan out burglary

>Fraudsters choose random phone numbers and reach them with the help of caller ID apps, which show the user’s information and his workplace

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