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, could have put up a brave face, while others often buckle under pressure.
James (another victim) had been driving to a city hotel at Al Khuwair around 7 pm in the second week of August on a road dotted with plenty of speed breakers. As he was about to reach his destination, he heard a huge sound from the rear side of his car. He got out and checked the boot lid. Meanwhile, he saw a man rushing towards him, and began showering abuses for what he called 'rash driving'. "He showed me a broken watch and demanded RO 120 as damages. I bargained with him and settled for RO 60. I was in a hurry for some official work. What I immediately wanted was to get out of the situation. That's why I paid him," James said.
But James realised his mistake when he reached home. "Had I hit him, he would have fallen down. It would have caused him major injuries. It was a clear sign that I didn't hit him. I didn't even notice his accomplice, who was standing close to my car. I realised that the men duped me when I spoke to some of my friends who had also fallen in similar traps," he said.
However, people like Mahesh (yet another vicitim) was able to make out the con man's intention when he demanded money after banging on his car near Oman House in Muttrah on a busy Ramadan night. The man showed an old injury, and demanded RO 100 for medical treatment. Mahesh offered him to take him to a nearby hospital and bear all the expenses for the treatment. But the 'victim' turned it down. "All he wanted was money. I even offered to accompany him to the Muttrah Police Station to register a complaint. When I told him in no uncertain terms that he would not get a single penny, he walked off."
Jaleel (another daring driver) had more than one encounter with the conmen. "I knew about the scam through a couple of my friends. So I acted very cautiously when a middle aged man banged on the left side of my car's boot lid," he said.
"Why are they doing the same trick to me," he had asked the person in his first encounter near the Star Cinema signal in Ruwi. "The question might have put him in a dilemma. He vanished from the scene immediately. I asked the same question when I faced the incident for the second time near the ONTC bus depot in Ruwi a couple of days later," he said. However, Jaleel could not recollect whether both the con men were the same. "All I can say is that their act was the same," he said.
Illegal to demand money: ROP
Meanwhile, the Royal Oman Police has informed that it is illegal to demand money by threatening residents in this way. "If people face any problem on the road, they should report the incident to the nearby police station. The ROP personnel will visit the site and take necessary action," an ROP official told Hi Weekly.
"It is illegal to demand money by threatening residents. If an accident occurs, do not hesitate to call the ROP emergency number – 9999 – and inform the concerned official about the incident. The official will direct you about the next course of action. Residents can also directly go to the nearest police station to register the complaint," the official added.
If an accident occurs, do not hesitate to call the ROP emergency number – 9999 – to seek direction or visit the nearest police station to register a complaint.
|ROP ||(Muscat Governorate)|
|Muscat Police Station:||24736611|
|Wattayah Police Station:||24677990|
|Ruwi Police Station:||24701099|
|Muttrah Police Station:||24712211|
|Bausher Police Station:||24600099|
|Al-Amerat Police Station:||24875999|
|Quraiyat Police Station:||24845555|
|Al Seeb Police Station:||24420099|
|Al Azaiba Police Station:||24521099|
"If some one hits your car and demands for money, you should not panic. If the con men get a feel that you are under pressure, they will take maximum advantage of the situation. When I faced the fraudsters in the CBD area in Ruwi, I called the PRO of my company. It gave them a hint that things are going out of their control. Immediately they ran away from the scene."
K A Jaleel
"I heard about the fraudsters threatening drivers for money through my friends. So when a person banged on the boot lid of my car, I didn't panic. I just asked him: "Why are you playing this trick on me?" I repeated the question when another man hit my car a couple of days later. The question might have disturbed them. Do not forget to inform the police, it will help nab the pranksters."
K P Mahesh Kumar
"When a man banged on the fender of my car near Oman House in Muttrah, I was bit confused. After I checked the car, I offered my apologies to him. But the man demanded money. His only aim was to make some quick money, not get treated. Usually the bargain declines when you stand your ground."