Muscat: Have you ever been in a situation where you could not use simple reasoning and your common sense failed you? If yes, do not feel embarrassed – you are not alone.
This is also nothing new for Oman's Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), which listens patiently to the complaints of victims of phone fraud on a regular basis.
Every year, thousands of people around the world lose money to telephone scams, from a few dollars to a couple of thousand, and Oman is no exception.
However, the authorities in Oman are determined to prevent increases in such fraudulent activities and root out this problem.
TRA calls fraudulent phone calls 'spam calls', but no matter what you call them, they are meant to pull money out of your pocket.
Between January 1 to June 30, the TRA call centre received 129 calls informing the authority that customers had received spam calls. "One month after I arrived in Oman, I received a call from someone claiming to be from Nawras. He said, 'You are our lucky user.
You have won OMR20,000.' For two minutes, I was so excited that I kept asking him where and how I should collect the money. Only when he told me that I should first transfer a certain amount of money to their account, I realised that something fishy was going on," said Shafeek, a Nawras user.
"Then I told him that, okay, I will come to Nawras office tomorrow to get my prize and suddenly he started abusing me with the worst possible words," he added.
Officials at TRA say that '20,000' is the common number that spammers are using on the phone.
"We do not know why. It seems to be their magic number," says Hilal Al Siyabi, international relations and media manager at TRA.
Speaking to Times of Oman, Al Siyabi said, "phone fraud is an international phenomenon and cannot be associated with any specific country. But spammers are usually hiding in countries where the legal system is not efficient enough to stop them."
These fraudsters use different methods to trick people into transferring money and give them different instructions as to how they should pay, he added. They are not amateurs, they are 'organised', Al Siyabi said, urging the public not to pass on their person details about themselves or their bank accounts to such callers.
According to TRA, a group of phone scammers was recently arrested in Salalah.
Majid Al Balushi, media and consumer affairs specialist at TRA, says that in order to make their victims believe them, these bogus callers, who are making calls from local numbers these days, ask the potential victim to check the back of their SIM card.
"They tell them, 'the number that we are going to tell you can be seen on the back of your SIM card. So hang up the phone, check it and we will get back to you'," Al Balushi said. "Yes, you will find the number there on your SIM card, but the point is that the same number has been printed on all the SIM cards from the same operator," he explained.
They randomly generate the numbers, since the prefixes are fixed and known to everyone, the official said, adding that thieves usually ask the victim to pay the money through an ATM or exchange offices, or even on recharge credit cards.
And they usually claim they are from one of the telecom operators, he said. Al Balushi said that TRA is doing its best to inform the public through its campaigns at various events, such as COMEX or Salalah Festival, and by issuing press releases and broadcasting educational programmes on TV and radio.
However, there are still people who do not read or watch TV, including some workers, he added.
Sometimes, TRA receives calls from sponsors, who say that their employees have fallen victim to these scams, the official said, adding that the authority is trying to inform sponsors about the issue of phone fraud so that they can warn their workers.
Phone fraud is an international phenomenon... but spammers are usually hiding in countries where the legal system is not efficient....
Hilal Al Siyabi
Media manager at TRA
TRA is not responsible for investigating the complaints, but provides the victims with the necessary information as to how to file a complaint
Majid Al Balushi
Media affairs specialist at TRA
Al Balushi explained that TRA is not responsible for investigating the complaints, but provides the victims with the necessary information as to how and where they should file a complaint.
The authorities responsible for providing assistance include the public prosecution offices and Royal Oman Police (ROP).
Al Siyabi encouraged those who have their money stolen to contact the TRA call centre and pursue the issue through legal channels.
However, one of the challenges in tracking these calls is that sometimes the callers use SIM cards which have been registered under another name. That is why the TRA has launched the 'My Number, My Identity' campaign to prevent misuse of SIM cards.
Al Siyabi said that basic logic dictates that you cannot win a prize when you do not participate in a competition.
"Also, you can tell them to deduct the requested amount from your total prize and beware that companies usually call from a landline. You can directly call the company that they claim they represent," he noted.
This is basic knowledge, but still some people want to get rich overnight, he said.
So, if a call like this comes out of nowhere and seems too good to be true, just hang up and inform the authorities, as there is a good chance it could be a scam call.
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