In a very short span of time, several expats in KSA have fallen prey to online scams and fraud. While otherwise educated and well aware, professionals such as doctors, engineers and academicians have ended up being duped by internet scammers and thus losing their hard earned money, precious time and peace of mind.
Real Stories of Expats Cheated Online
An Indian doctor working as a Consultant in a Saudi suburb heard of an excellent opportunity for MDs to earn an American PhD degree online, from one of his colleagues. He was told that everything is done online including meetings with the guide who oversees preparations of the thesis and in a couple of years they award the PhD. Fascinated, he checked the website of the said university and decided to register. Since the registration fee was merely 60 USD, he didn’t mind using his credit card.
The next day when his family came to know about his endeavours, they suspected a fraud since the university’s name was unheard of. To their surprise they found out that no such university existed in America and that it was indeed a scam. Upon calling their Bank, which was based in India, they were informed that not one but three transactions had been made from their card the previous day, two of them amounting to 10,000 USD. Fortunately, by reporting the fraud within 24 hours, the transaction was labelled disputed.
Others however have not been that fortunate to discover the fraud in time. There are several expats living in KSA who are lured by the prospects of earning degrees online since such opportunities are nearly non existent for working professionals in the kingdom, others are duped by investment firms which promise high returns or fake lottery programs that claim that a BMW car is waiting to be shipped.
Types of Popular Internet Scams
While cyber crime and internet fraud is of several types, the most common online scams include:
1. Fraudulent Job offers
2. Fake Universities offering Online Degrees
3. Investment Scams Promising Quick Returns
4. Fake Lottery/Lucky Draw Prizes
5. Notifications of Unexpected Courier Packages
6. Immigration Opportunities to Developed Countries
Don’t be surprised if you receive a job offer letter from a world class company after posting your job online without much inquiry or investigation from their side. Many have been cheated by fake offers of employment in the name of leading companies like ExxonMobil and Aramco. Once the candidate replies to the offer, demands are made for paying the refundable Visa processing Fee etc and soon after receiving the money the scammers stop responding.
Similarly, several advertisements appearing on websites you frequent will claim to provide mouth watering investment opportunities, but once you invest your money, its gone.
Sometimes you may even receive an email asking you to collect your package that has been delivered by courier and once you click the link provided, you are asked to fill in your email address, password and other sensitive details. At other times you might receive emails informing you that the BMW you won in a lottery, that you never participated in, is waiting to be shipped and you just have to pay shipment charges.
The bitter truth is that there is no university, no job, no package and no BMW; it is just a scam and if you are gullible enough to give them any money, you are not going to get anything in return.
How to Distinguish Between Genuine and Fake Offers Online
Unfortunately, Internet being a novelty for many expats, they are unable to differentiate between genuine and fraudulent offers of employment, admission, investment etc on the internet. Further, once they fall into the trap of fraudsters, they are unable to find a definitive solution.
However, by following some basic advice one can not only safely navigate offers of education and employment on the internet, but also try to take necessary action upon discovering such fraud.
Whenever you come across such an offer on the internet, take the following steps to ensure that you are not falling prey to a scam/ fraud:
1. Use Google search to check if the said university/ organisation/ firm etc has already been labelled as a scam by using terms like “Richmond University Scam” or whether there are any complaints by other internet users about instances of fraud.
2. Pay attention to the language used in the correspondence particularly email. ‘Phising’ is a term used for scams that use written correspondence ridden with spelling and grammatical mistakes such as ‘phfiend’ instead of friend. No genuine organisation would use such low quality language when corresponding with you.
3. The rule of thumb is to NEVER pay someone promising you a job, its they who have to pay you, nor pay anybody claiming to ship a prize to your address.
4. NEVER enter your email password except on the genuine Sign In page nor enter the details of your credit card anywhere except the official payment gateway of the bank. Usually the website address should begin with https instead of http, indicating that the page is ‘secure’.
5. Always check to see if the educational organisations are recognised and accredited by local authorities and read the reviews of previous students about their experience.
6. Apart from keeping your online banking details and credit card info safe, also use other security features such as putting an International purchase limit on your card and using ‘OTP on mobile’ option instead of master card/ visa secure password.
7. If you use your debit card when transacting online, make sure to keep limited funds available in the account so that you do not face huge losses in the event of someone misusing it.
What to do Upon Discovering Fraud or Being Cheated
If you realize that you have been a victim of an online scam/ phising attempt:
1. If you suspect that sensitive information might be in the wrong hands, Change the password of your email addresses, social networking sites immediately along with the passwords for you netbanking accounts and the PIN of your credit/debit card.
2. If you have already made a transaction, call up your bank immediately and confirm how much money has been debited. Mostly, if you report the fraud within 24 hours the transaction is labelled disputed and if you are fortunate your money will be reverted back.
3. Post details about your experience on social networking sites like Facebook, twitter, linkedIn etc apart from posting your complaint on websites that are dedicated to exposing such scams. By doing so you are saving other people from being cheated.
4. Register a complaint with local authorities/ police so that such criminal activities can be monitored and curbed.