UAE - Most may delete text messages alerting people about 'the million-dollar raffle from telecommunication providers' or a WhatsApp message about 'a Dh1,000 free voucher from a leading retailer in the UAE'. Though most people are educated about these fraud practices, for a particular sect of the population, these messages could result in dire consequences.
Take Bangladeshi national and Sharjah-resident Ashraful Islam for example. He works in a Sharjah Municipality car parking lot and is a regular recipient of fraud messages on text and WhatsApp messages. "Now I realise it is fake. In the beginning, I used to think these messages were real. I almost lost Dh2,800 to this scam. At the last moment, my brother warned me about it being fake. Now I alert all my friends who get similar messages," Islam told Khaleej Times.
It is still easier to protect oneself from older and simpler fraud schemes such as these, given that there are awareness programmes in place and people are more educated. However, according to the Telecommunications Regulations Authority (TRA) of the UAE, "technical and scientific advancements in the field of telecommunication and information technology, internet networks and social media channels created a complicated pattern of crimes that cannot be detected easily. This kind of crimes are raising the concerns of the local and international communities".
Police officials and social workers are saying that there has been a substantial increase in the number of 'WhatsApp-related' crimes in the recent past. Captain Mohsin Mohammed, director of the IT department, Sharjah Police, said they had received a "large number of complaints" from residents who were cheated after they responded to messages over 'WhatsApp'.
"The police have dealt with many such cases and have tracked down cybercriminals who impersonated employees of telecom companies and hypermarket chains," said Captain Mohammed. Colonel Ibrahim Musabah Al Ajil, director of the criminal investigations department, also told Khaleej Times in an earlier interview that crime methods are continually evolving as technology advances.
In an earlier interview, Bindu Suresh Chettur, a lawyer who provides legal counselling at the Indian Workers Resource Centre (IWRC) and member of the Indian consulate's community volunteer team, had said there has been a drastic increase in the number of people who are headed to the centre with e-crime complaints. She said: "Identity theft and purchase of expensive mobile phones are a common complaint we receive at the IWRC. The biggest victims of these kinds of frauds are innocent blue-collared workers. They end up with several thousands of dirhams worth phone bills or loans, which they cannot afford to repay."
Drop in blackmail cases
However, there has been a drop in the number of cyber blackmail cases, according to Dubai Police officials. The Dubai police have received 83 threat and blackmailing reports for cyber extortion during the first six months of 2017. This figure is lesser compared to the 87 threats and blackmail reports during the same period in 2016, 80 in 2015 and 66 in 2014.
According to official statistics, in 2009, 62 cybercrimes involving Internet bullying and verbal abuse were reported. In 2010, the number increased to 73 cases. In 2011, 588 cases of cyber-crimes were reported, while 792 cases were reported in 2012. The number of cases almost doubled to 1,419 in 2014.
The General Department of Cyber Crimes of the Dubai Police have received several complaints from women, who were subjected to blackmail and intimidation online. They were blackmailed over their photographs on social media websites like Facebook and Twitter.
Safeguard your devices
With 47 per cent of people in the UAE still failing to protect their mobile devices, and only 25 per cent using anti-theft solutions, pickpockets who get their hands on a smartphone could be in for more of a treat than even they hope for, according to a cybersecurity expert.
"Only 53 per cent of people password-protect their mobile devices, and just 14 per cent of people encrypt their files and folders to avoid unauthorised access.
So, if these devices fall into the wrong hands, all of this data - from personal accounts to photos, messages and even financial details - could become accessible to someone else," explained Dmitry Aleshin, vice-president for product marketing, Kaspersky Lab.
Given the rising number of e-crimes, cyber blackmail and e-bullying, the TRA has launched sophisticated means to track, apprehend and report criminals who indulge in such fraud. The TRA said: "It was imperative to raise awareness of the methods that cybercriminals use when targeting their victims. It is also necessary to address these acts by holding cybercriminals legally accountable and applying the appropriate punishment for such a crime."
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