Number’s up for phone scammers in Oman

Energy Wednesday 22/February/2017 22:17 PM
By: Times News Service
Number’s up for phone scammers in Oman

Muscat: Oman’s telecoms regulator will launch an awareness campaign this year to target phone scammers, as some of the Sultanate’s biggest companies warn residents not to fall prey to con merchants trying to steal their cash.
Scammers claiming to represent telecom companies and banks are cold-calling residents telling them they have won a cash prize of up to OMR20,000. They then persuade gullible victims to part with sensitive information like account numbers, passwords, resident card details and pin numbers.
Story of the phone scam: how criminals try to steal your money
Instead of receiving a cash windfall, victims have their bank savings stolen after criminals hijack their accounts and change pins and passwords.
The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) in Oman told Times of Oman it is planning an awareness campaign, involving other stakeholders such as Public Prosecution, which will focus on over-the-phone exploitation.
The campaign will be in full operation later this year, a spokesman said.
Mohamed Al Salmi, Media Communications Manager at Omantel, said the company has its own protocol when it comes to prizes and awards, and that’s only if there is an actual campaign running.
“We haven’t had a campaign in the last five years, so the first question a person should ask is, ‘I won a prize from what campaign?’ We don’t announce awards and prizes in this manner.
“First of all, we call from a fixed line, not a mobile number. We would never request such confidential information, and would ask the winner to come to the premises instead,” Salmi said.
“We warn customers not to deal with such people and to report them immediately to the concerned authority which is public prosecution. Whenever we receive a complaint from a customer in this regard, whether through social media or the contact centre, we forward it to the legal department and then to the public prosecution,” he added.
Bank Muscat, in keeping with its commitment to customer care, engages in awareness campaigns to educate customers on varied fraudulent activities.
They regularly advise people not to give banking ID or other confidential information over the phone, via social networking, or over the internet.
The Bank Muscat advisory adds: Do not transfer funds without due validation of the beneficiary or recipient, as funds once transferred cannot be reversed.
Do not store sensitive information like credit/debit card details, User IDs and Password of Internet & Mobile Banking on your phone. Do not forget to inform the bank if you change your contact information like mobile number, email ID, Address information etc.
“Bank Muscat warns customers to never share personal information or financial information via SMS, WhatsApp, call or email. Individuals should not follow the instructions mentioned in SMS sent from a not trusted source and delete such SMS instantly.
“The bank urges its customers to please call the Call Centre, number located on reverse side of card, if any urgent communication asking for personal information is received.”
One resident targeted by the scammers decided to play them at their own game. “The first time they called me, they asked if I was Omani. When I said yes, they immediately hung up on me. The second time I was called, they asked the same question. I told them I was Persian, and they continued the conversation. I think they are intentionally targeting expats in Oman,” Ahmed said.
Ahmed, who wishes to keep his identity concealed, would usually hang up as soon as he realized who was on the other line. But after receiving similar calls in the past, curiosity got the better of him and he was all ears.
“We are calling from Omantel. You’ve won a prize of 20,000 rials from Omantel. Congratulations and praise to God. God willing you will receive the funds in your account today at Bank X. Do you have the account number?”
Ahmed gave the scammers the number of an old account, with no funds in it. The scammer continued his con: “You will receive OMR 5,000 from Bank X in Oman, five thousand from Bank X in Dubai, another five thousand from a Saudi bank, five thousand from a bank in Bahrain. OMR 20,000 will come to you from all these banks, now are you ready with the expiration number, brother?”
Ahmed supplied the required info and his phone immediately started to receive messages from the bank his account is with, giving him a new PIN number.
The scammer tells his victim that it’s the pin number. The scammer is trying to infiltrate the account, and for security reasons, a text was sent to the owner of the account with a new pin number.
Instead of giving the new PIN, Ahmed gives his old PIN. But it doesn’t take long for the scammer to become agitated.
“No! what are you saying, I said give me the number in the message. The new pin number. What is it? This is the old pin. What’s the new PIN? With the new PIN, in the name of God, you will be receiving the funds.
Ahmed: “So when is the money coming? I want to buy a car.”
Scammer: (laughs) Inshallah, Insallah. Just one second, I am now contacting the bank in Dubai and they will transfer five thousand. I’m staring at the computer watching it transfer over, Inshallah.
“I work at the office of Prizes International in the business department. This PIN number you gave me is not the correct one brother.
“Brother, your words are a lie, your words are a lie. You’re not getting the 20,000 because you haven’t given us the right number.”
Ahmed: “Why are you calling me a liar? I’ve given you my account number, my ID number, why am I a liar?”
The phone call ends with Ali Abdullah asking Ahmed to send him a WhatsApp message with a picture of the card on it. Ahmed did not respond.
*You can read and listen to the full transcript at (pointer to online with transcript and audio)