Dubai: Khalid, a 40-year-old Dubai-based engineer, was having goosebumps as he walked down the dimly lit hallway of a sixth-floor hotel apartment in Dubai. When he reached Flat 606, he knocked on the door with trepidation while checking the empty hallway.
As he waited for the door to open, Khalid was thinking about how just 24 hours earlier, he was checking the Tinder dating app, when a picture of a beautiful blonde popped up. After pressing the like button on her profile, he received a message from the blonde to meet her at her hotel apartment. After chatting with her on WhatsApp, he learnt her name was Maria. She sent her location with a flat number, asking him to come over quickly.
Now as the door opened, Khalid could hardly see anything as the apartment was dark, with only a faded red light coming from the living room. He heard a woman’s voice asking him to enter the apartment. The woman who was at the doorway claimed Maria was waiting for him inside.
Very uncomfortable by now, Khalid felt a movement behind the door. Sensing things were not right, he ran into the corridor and down the stairs to make a quick exit out of the building. Fortunately, he was able to reach his car and get home.
Recounting his ordeal, Khalid considers himself lucky. It was only later he realised he had been nearly scammed as he read about gangs (mainly from African countries) use online dating platforms being held after luring victims and looting them of their money and belongings.
Recent cases: A Spanish visitor’s nightmare
In a recent case, a Spanish visitor told the Dubai Court of First Instance that he went to see a Brazilian woman after getting to know her via the Tinder app, but was stripped naked, threatened with a knife and robbed by a gang. The 36-year-old Spanish visitor said that he spoke with whom he believed was the Brazilian woman through the Tinder app and went to meet her in an apartment. When he reached the apartment, three women and three men from Nigeria dragged him inside, physically assaulted him and held him at knifepoint. They stole his credit cards and used it for different purchases worth Dh19,552.
Indian man who never met the European blonde
On June 25, 2020, when an Indian man identified as P.M., was checking Tinder, he clicked a post supposedly by a blonde European woman. He made a deal with her for a Dh500 massage. She sent a WhatsApp of her location at a hotel apartment. At 11.30pm on the same night, he knocked the door of Flat 1103. A Nigerian woman opened the door for him and guided him inside the dark flat. “As she closed the door, three other women and two men appeared asking me to give the wallet. They stole Dh600 and two credit cards. They tied my hands and forced me to give the passcode of the cards. They withdraw Dh33,600 from my bank account,” P.M. told Dubai Court of First Instance.
Her name was Fiola
Similarly in April this year, a Nigerian man and his countrywoman created a fake account of a beautiful girl named her Fiola. They projected the girl as an American national masseuse based in Bahrain. Later they start hunting for victims. A 72-year-old Jordanian man liked Fiola’s profile on a dating app and exchanged phone numbers. The Nigerian woman kept chatting with him through WhatsApp until June 5, 2020, when she told him that she was in Dubai and wanted to see him. As the Jordanian man entered Flat 3406, the Nigerian woman with her countryman dragged him into a room and beat him up. They stole his mobile phone and Dh3,000 in cash from his pockets.
Anatomy of a dating scam
- Gangs target victims through popular dating apps — i.e. Tinder and other social media apps like Facebook, WhosHere, Badoo, Instagam
- They create fake accounts with pictures of attractive women to lure lonely hearts
- The victim, usually a man, tries to befriend who he thinks is a genuine person behind the account
- A chat ensues, then a meeting is set, with the victim then unknowingly falling into a honeytrap
- When the victim reaches the address of the “girl”, he gets the shock of his life
- He realises, quite belatedly, that the girl is fake
- Other gang members emerge out of the shadows and steal the victim’s belongings — mobile phones, money and credit cards, and take indecent pictures of the victim
- With the “evidence”, they threaten him not to report the incident to the police.
- They may empty the victims’ credit/debit cards before releasing him and threatening to publish his images on social media if he calls the police. In many cases, the gangs rent apartments with fake documents.
20 gangs that scammed people through dating apps arrested
In July 2020, Dubai Police nabbed 20 gangs who blackmailed numerous victims through dating apps and social media platforms.
Brigadier Jamal Salem Al Jallaf, Director of Criminal Investigation Department (CID) at Dubai Police, said that 47 members of the 20 gangs from an African country, conducted online scams and blackmailed victims through dating applications. They included 10 women and 37 men.
According to the official, 47 members of the 20 gangs from an African country, conducted online scams and blackmailed victims through dating applications.
They used to create accounts with pictures of women to lure the victim to a woman. “When the victim goes to the address of the girl, he will be surprised that she isn’t the one in the picture. Later, the gang members steal the victim’s belongings like mobile phones, money, and credit cards and take indecent pictures of the victim to threaten him not to report to the police,” Brig Al Jallaf said in a statement.
The gangs rent an apartment with fake documents and withdraw the victims’ money through their credit cards before releasing the victims and threaten to publish the pictures on social media if the victim called police.
Police advise caution
In light of the recent scams, Dubai Police through a video have warned people of the dangers of using online dating apps.
The video shows a man checking a dating app on his mobile phone and contacting strangers. In the video, the man is shown to have received a message about the location of an unlicensed, secret, massage parlour. He drives his car to the centre, which is only a bait for criminals to steal his money and credit cards.
As soon as the apartment door opens, the man is seen going inside before he is heard screaming due to a physical assault launched on him by a gang of criminals who specialise in blackmailing people and stealing their money. “Avoid being a victim of dating sites,” police say in the video.
What the law says
Lawyer Wageh Ameen Abdulaziz from the World Centre Advocates and Legal Consultant, told Gulf News that the UAE’s Federal law No 3 for 1987, punishes anyone who locks or seizes and physically harms or tortures a person with jail sentence.
“The UAE law is clear on this point and imposes a tough punishment. If the suspect impersonated another to lure a victim and later locked or kidnapped a victim and then threatened or physically assaulted the victim, then the punishment will be up to life in jail,” Abdulaziz said.
He said that with the rapid development of communication, more crimes happen. But the country is well aware of the developments and has issued a cybercrime law to tackle crimes on the internet.
“The scam is an e-scam and involves blackmail. Internet users should be careful about their privacy on social media platforms and know it well. People shouldn’t accept friend requests from strangers,” added Abdulaziz.
He pointed out that criminals who illegally withdraw money via victims’ credit cards, can be punished with at least one year in jail and fine between Dh200,000 to Dh1 million. As per Dubai Public Prosecution, a deportation order is compulsory for convicted defendants.
How to spot online dating scams
- If the person you’re talking to online is reluctant to talk on the phone and asks you to come to their place, it’s possible that they’re not who they’re pretending to be.
- If the scammer is asking you to move your chat off the dating site to text or WhatsApp.
- If the person you’re talking to looks too good to be true.
What to do if you suspect you’re talking to a dating scammer?
Google the name appeared in the profile to help ensure the results are legitimate.
Ask to talk on the phone and try to figure out the accent.
Suggest an alternative location to meet up first, such as a coffee shop.
If you’ve been a victim of a scam, don’t be shy and report the incident to the nearest police station or call Dubai Police.