A thud fell on Majid's careful motoring history recently. It shocked the experienced driver who boasts of his alacrity on the road. Policemen never flagged him down for traffic violations. He never remitted a single baiza as penalty, and has been maintaining a clean slate ever since he got his driving licence five years ago. So the loud noise from the rear side dented his confidence, though it didn't leave any scratch on the paint of his car.
"Did I hit the man on the sidewalk?" he asked himself several times as he waited at the signal, near the busy Ruwi taxi stand, to turn green. It was around 9 pm in the last week of August and plenty of people were there on the promenade. "No, I didn't commit any mistake. The man deliberately banged on the fender. How can my car hit him when the signal was red?" With a firm belief that he didn't do anything wrong, Majid (name changed) stepped up the gas and headed to his office.
But he felt something wrong as he drove on. He saw two men chasing him in a taxi. They flashed headlights intermittently. It was a signal for him to stop. But he ignored it. At the next junction, one of them came out and tried to enter his car. However, the power door locks foiled his attempt. Then he asked Majid to open the door. Panic gripped Majid. He sweated profusely despite sitting in the cool confines of his car.
The two men continued their chase till Majid reached his office. Immediately both of them charged towards him. "Can't you see people on the sidewalk? Your car hit me and my elbow has been injured. You have to compensate me," one of them began the argument.
By then Majid was able to regain his composure. So he asked them to register a complaint at the Ruwi Police Station. "I have to go to hospital. You must pay us RO 100 now," the short, stout man with a salt and pepper long beard handed out the compromise formula. But Majid didn't budge. Soon the negotiation took a threatening tone. "Do you know the consequences of going to the police station? We are ready to settle the issue for RO 50," his accomplice said. But Majid stood firm. Then they slashed the rate to RO 25 and then to RO 10. "Give us at least RO 2 to pay the taxi fare," they pleaded later. Unable to withstand the bargain, Majid called the ROP emergency number (9999) and informed the official about the incident. At this point, the duo sped away in their hired taxi.
The twosome belongs to a group of new-age fraudsters, who employ quirky ways to earn quick bucks. They are well-dressed, look smart and speak fluent English. Their appearance, articulation and dignified demeanour are enough to trap confused drivers. They lurk in narrow lanes, roads with plenty of speed breakers, near traffic signals where vehicles reduce speed and in public parking lots. They also prefer to operate near less-crowded ATM counters. For, it is easy to intimidate those who come out after bank transactions. Their unique modus operandi helps them evade the attention of the police and public at large.
According to the victims, fraudsters spot the vehicles from a distance. When the car slows down near a signal or a speed breaker, they hit the bumper with a metal object. The heavy thud forces the driver to put the breaks and check the reasons for the unusual sound. In the meantime, they pick up an argument with the driver and barge into the car. They may show their broken mobile phones, spectacle, watch or old injuries to prove that the car has hit them. All the arguments and demand for money happen only inside the car. For, they know making arguments in public claims can land them in trouble.
Some residents who have fallen prey to the fraudsters told Hi Weekly that they were embarrassed when the con men claimed money for being 'hit'. At that moment, they couldn't even think of going to the police station or calling the emergency number. So the fraudsters capitalise on the victims' helplessness to extract money out of them. A few of them, like Majid,