Less Exposure to Scams

Saudi Arabia Fights Financial Fraud with Consumer Awareness
Senior woman using mobile phone while holding credit card. (Getty)

From time to time, we hear about victims of financial fraud in the Saudi mainstream media. Fraudsters use different techniques to lure victims who are stripped of their money in conventional and unconventional ways. 

“Poor Fernando! He got a call telling him his bank account has been frozen and requesting him to send his personal bank account details over a WhatsApp link. He lost all that remained from his salary. SR 750 (UDS 200) disappeared from his bank account at the hands of fraudsters,” Khalid, a Jeddah-based accountant at a furniture company, told Majalla.

With thousands of cases reported annually, how is Saudi Arabia reacting against financial fraud? Let’s explore the reasons, type of victims and show the available stats.

WHO IS INVOLVED?

“Fraudsters exist anytime, anywhere in the world and anyone may be subjected to fraudulent action,” Abdulrahman Mohammed, an IT expert in his early forties, explained to Majalla.

“Fake apps can be downloaded by victims who give their credit card and debit card numbers and passwords voluntarily. The confidential information is used by fraudsters to carry out financial transactions,” he explained.

The Saudi Ministries of Commerce and Finance as well as the Saudi Central Bank always issue statements and produce awareness campaigns so people won’t fall victim to fraudsters. However, the Media and Banking Awareness Committee for Saudi Banks (MBACSB) is more active in terms of awareness campaigns and competitions. Over the past few years, MBACSB launched several awareness campaigns including “Not on US,” “It’s Old,” “They Abandoned It,” and many more. “Don’t Play Their Game” is the latest in a series of awareness campaigns meant to make people more alert, mindful, and safe to keep their financial information confidential and rebuff fraudsters.

FRAUD IN NUMBERS

According to the MBACSB statistics, 2613 financial fraud cases were reported in 2018. It marks a small increase from the previous year of 2017 which witnessed 2046 recorded cases with a total loss of USD 57 million. In 2016, there was a spike with 4275 fraud cases that cost victims USD 138.6 million.

Some victims are lured to send money to claim a shipment or prize that does not exist! Others are deceived by fraudsters who call bank customers and claim they are bank employees requesting the victims to disclose their confidential banking information and allow untrustworthy people to carry out financial transactions on behalf of the real bank account owner.

“Fraudsters develop new ways and never stop trying. Technology is making it easier for them to do their job. The extensive use of emails, WhatsApp messages, phone calls and fake apps help those criminals find victims much easier than before,” said the IT expert.

WHO ARE THE VICTIMS?

“A couple of months ago, my mother’s phone was ringing. She picked up the call and was told she won SR 200,000 in a random competition. She was asked to send her bank details so the prize could be transferred to her bank account,” said Faten, a young lady whose 70-year-old mother was on the verge of being a victim.

Fraudsters prefer to prey on old people and those who are unsophisticated. Awareness campaigns are becoming multi-lingual with more focus on Arabic and English so they achieve higher penetration rates, insofar as around half of the expats in Saudi Arabia are non-Arabs.

Online financial transactions are increasing dramatically, both in volume and value. It is a matter that needs to be addressed properly with more cybersecurity measures and awareness. The real challenge is how to make sure old people, who are less technology-oriented than younger generations, are aware they might be a hot target for fraudsters. This demographic section is included in the Saudi financial systems.

“Older people are being reached through ‘family awareness,’ meaning that educating all family members ensures a better dissemination of campaigns to all demographics,” said Hani Sameer, a content generator with a specialty in financial awareness campaigns, when speaking to Majallah.

AWARENESS AND REPORTING FRAUD

When collecting data, government agencies and study centers rely on the cases reported by victims or complainants.

Victims make a big mistake if they do not report frauds promptly to the bank or the police. Withholding the details of a fraud will give fraudsters more time to hunt for victims. Immediate reporting is critical in preventing criminals from feeling safe or immune.

Fraudsters play on the string of ego. Some victims find it hard to confess they were robbed or deceived because it might hurt their image in front of others.

“Nobody is immune. Fraudsters might contact any of your family members. Being a victim is not a shame. People need to open up and report any fraud attempt. This is the real function of the awareness campaigns,” concluded Hani, the anti-fraud expert.