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Romance scams in Dubai: Women tricked out of up to Dh500,000 by fraudsters faking love – News | #datingscams | #lovescams | #datingscams | #love | #relationships | #scams | #pof | | #dating | #hacking | #aihp

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Published: Mon 11 Mar 2024, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Mon 11 Mar 2024, 7:45 AM

Russian real estate agent Miranda Hayes truly believed the fines imposed by her Arab boyfriend were for her own good. He’d charge her anywhere from Dh3,000 to Dh15,000 for being late to dates or upsetting him. “Yes, you can call me dumb, because looking back, I realise I was naive. But at that time, I didn’t sense anything was wrong. I was in love, and he assured me that the money charged as penalties was being saved for our future and to discipline me,” said Hayes.

The 34-year-old has since broken up with the man, but the repercussions linger. Over two years, she estimates handing over Dh150,000 to her partner, primarily in the form of punitive fines, driven by hopes for a shared future that never materialised. Her partner turned out to be married with two children in Sharjah.

Miranda’s experience, though shocking, is far from unique in Dubai.

A British restaurateur, Wendy, recounted her own ordeal when her Irish boyfriend forced her out of an apartment in Al Barari, despite her having invested Dh500,000 as a down payment.

Wendy said she met the man when she came to Dubai for vacation after it opened up after Covid-19 in September 2020. “I was swept up in what I thought was a whirlwind romance, only to discover it was a carefully spun web of lies to steal my money,” said the 32-year-old black woman.

I was so blinded by love that I sold my London business to cover the mortgage, and didn’t hesitate when he insisted on putting the property solely in his name

More recently, Smita, a marketing director at a Dubai-based company, shared how her boyfriend tricked her into giving him Dh30,000.

“When that wasn’t enough, he made up a desperate story, saying he needed more money to pay off a personal loan, claiming that failure to comply would lead to his imprisonment.”

“He blocked me and vanished when I refused to hand over any additional funds.”

Upon deeper investigation, Smita uncovered a startling truth. The man had been using a false identity throughout their relationship. “We had been together for three months, and all this time, he was deceiving me with a fake persona,” she said.

Troubling trend

One in six women in the UK has experienced financial abuse by a current or former partner, according to the charity Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA). Financial abuse, now recognised in law in certain countries, is a form of economic abuse that involves controlling a victim’s finances, such as restricting access to money or coercing them into taking on debt.

Regardless of the method, victims often find themselves in precarious financial situations. Many victims experience financial abuse alongside other forms of domestic abuse. In the US, for instance, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reports that financial abuse occurs in 99 per cent of domestic violence cases, highlighting the seriousness and prevalence of the issue.

While statistics for the UAE are scarce, the impact on female victims reveals a troubling trend, particularly with women frequently falling prey to romance scams.

In April 2022, Briton Richard Dexter, 38, and a father of two, was sentenced to four and a half years in a UK jail for defrauding a Dubai woman he met on Tinder out of £141,500 (Dh661,450).

Dexter lured his victim with promises of a lavish lifestyle, boasting of “private jets and expensive cars”, enticing potential investors in a biopharmaceutical technology deal.

After his arrest, parallels were drawn between him the infamous ‘Tinder Swindler’, whose exploits were documented in a widely-viewed Netflix documentary.

Court proceedings revealed that Dexter initiated contact with the Dubai woman on Tinder, portraying himself as a Hollywood insider with vast wealth and luxury possessions. One message from Dexter bragged, “I am 32, most of my friends went to college and university, all of them have debts and worries, and they all earn £40,000 to £60,000. I bought a hot air balloon yesterday just because I could.”

The prosecutor explained how Dexter persuaded the woman to invest in a patent catalogue, which included a fake “bioreactor paddle” patent. He falsely claimed to have arranged to sell it to a medical firm, saying it was valued at £3.6 million and promising the woman 50 per cent of the profits. Despite the victim’s declining health, Dexter kept asking her for more money to cover administrative and legal fees. In the end, he took a total of £141,500 from her.

Underlying factors

Instead of deriding those who fall victim to romance scams, psychologists advocate for understanding the underlying factors driving these women’s need for connection.

Aprita Anand, a counselling psychologist at Openminds Psychiatry, Counselling, and Neuroscience Centre, said while the factors may vary from person to person, there is often a common thread of vulnerability stemming from past hardships, loneliness, or feelings of insecurity.

“If a man gives attention, women who may have an underlying vulnerability may get easily drawn to him.”

“It’s really critical for women to take their time. Relationships should progress slowly. Trust builds slowly. Allowing oneself to have several experiences with the man over a period of time will help women assess him better.”

It’s really critical for women to take their time. Relationships should progress slowly. Trust builds slowly. Allowing oneself to have several experiences with the man over a period of time will help women assess him better

She further advised, “Until a relationship evolves to a level where there is enough trust, it’s best to be cautious and keep financial matters separate. If a man gets into the financial issues soon, it’s a definite red flag.”

However, not everyone is adept at recognising the red flags.

Kesha, an Indian professional who was in a relationship with Ramez whom she met on a dating app in June 2021, admitted that his chivalry and sweet talk obscured all the warning signs.

Ramez portrayed himself as a well-groomed Emirati risk and compliance officer from Abu Dhabi who resided in company-accommodation in Dubai.

“He ticked all boxes, an honest, kind, mature, intelligent, good-looking, hardworking gentleman looking for a serious relationship. I was in heaven.”

She described how Ramez would attentively listen to her, compliment her beauty and professional achievements, check in with her every morning and evening, and frequently discuss his seniority and responsibilities at work.

As time went on, Ramez confided in Kesha about an argument with his employer, resulting in his suspension and financial struggles with university fees. Kesha disclosed that he then sought financial help, starting with Dh6,000.

“In the third month, Ramez called from a police station, claiming arrest for credit card default. He asked for Dh14,000, promising repayment of Dh20,000 in 3 to 6 months.

“The next month, he claimed his father was dying in Canada, needing urgent visitation.”

Through informal talks with industry colleagues, Kesha discovered the truth: Ramez had not been suspended, was not Emirati, and never visited his father. Instead, he took a two-week trip to Turkey with his girlfriend, funded by Kesha’s money.

“As reality sank in, I realised everything was a facade. I recall the moments he convinced me to purchase costly women’s fragrances, claiming they were gifts for his aunt. Now, I suspect they were intended for his girlfriend.”

Kesha said Ramez is still actively using TikTok, Instagram, and Tinder to attract females by pretending to be someone he is not.

A lawyer, who preferred to remain anonymous, said Dubai is a fertile ground for such scams due to its diverse population, young demographic, abundant wealth, and lack of nosy relatives. “Unfortunately, victims often have little legal recourse since the money is usually given willingly without any supporting evidence.”

Kesha advises that if you’ve been being taken advantage of before, it’s crucial to take proactive steps to protect yourself in future financial dealings. “Request a cheque issued in your name before making any bank transfers. While this may help mitigate financial damage, nothing can shield you from the emotional trauma of being deceived.”

Gaia, 32, from the UK, learned this lesson first hand. She met Ziad through a mutual connection on a dating app, convinced he was seeking a serious relationship and eventual marriage.”

Gaia recounted how their relationship progressed sporadically until she travelled to London in late 2019. It was then that he began professing his love more frequently, coinciding with immediate money requests. On her birthday, October 16, he asked for Dh10,000, citing financial issues. Gaia sent the money, and he reciprocated with declarations of love and desires for a family.

Upon her return from London, their time together was marred by continued financial requests. These varied from specific needs, such as visa renewals, to arbitrary demands. “The sums escalated rapidly—from Dh10,000 to Dh20,000, Dh50,000 and eventually Dh100,000.” Gaia said she realised too late that she had been groomed and deceived into believing in his love while being exploited over the span of three years, all under the guise of ‘loans’.

“Once, he even used my debit card to purchase trainers worth over Dh2,500. Initially, I didn’t think much of it, but later, it became apparent he was exploiting me. We rang in the New Year of 2021-22 together at my place in Downtown. I prepared a meal, but he soon resumed his demands for money. When I refused, he stormed out, leaving me alone on New Year’s Eve.

“On January 14, he resumed his requests, this time for his supposed trip and for his alleged house construction in India. He sent me pictures of marble, seeking my opinion, but our communication dwindled due to his increasingly rude behaviour. Come Valentine’s Day on February 14, 2022, he took me out to dinner, only to end the evening by asking for money once again. Reluctantly, I gave him Dh50,000 but the next month, he demanded an additional Dh40,000,” recounted Gaia, who eventually resorted to selling her car to meet his demands.

Relationship experts say romance scams involving physical relationship leave a far more devastating impact than those conducted solely online, as the emotional investment and trust built during face-to-face encounters deepens the sense of betrayal and trauma experienced by the victim.

Nadine Chammas, a Dubai-based author and life mentor, said rebuilding trust in oneself and others after enduring betrayal and deception in a romance scam starts with cultivating self-trust.

Falling victim to a scam doesn’t diminish one’s intelligence or worthiness of love and respect. While trust may be temporarily shattered, it can be rebuilt through self-reflection and remaining open to genuine connections

“Through this process, women can emerge with a deeper understanding of themselves, stronger self-trust, and the resilience to navigate future relationships confidently and authentically.”

She said even seemingly successful and educated women fall for these scams, which tap on the fundamental human need to belong.

“When our emotions are engaged, we tend to let down our guard and may overlook warning signs or rationalise suspicious behaviour in our attempt to find genuine connection and acceptance,” she explained. “The sophistication of these scams, coupled with the suspension of critical thinking in emotional contexts, renders even educated individuals susceptible to manipulation and deception.”

Neha Singh, 32, is among the fortunate few who recognised the red flags when her boyfriend started asking for money.

The Indian expat got introduced to Amar through a family member when she was looking to buy a house as he he worked in real estate.

Neha recounted how their occasional coffee meetings to discuss property options escalated once Amar discovered her affluent background. “I’ve been in Dubai for over six years now, and though I wasn’t actively seeking a relationship, I was open to meeting someone and settling down,” she said. “We began meeting more frequently, and soon we were in a relationship.”

“In the early stages, Amar mentioned his debt from overusing credit cards during a year of unemployment,” Neha continued. “However, he downplayed it, assuring me that with his new job in real estate, he would soon settle the debt.”

“The money conversations became more intense after a few months,” Neha said. “Banks were calling him constantly, lawyers got involved, and eventually, he faced a travel ban. While he never directly asked me for money, he often hinted at it and guilt-tripped me into helping him.”

“I grew suspicious when he started putting me on conference calls with bank officials and friends for legal advice,” Neha explained. “The calls seemed staged and lacked legitimacy. He couldn’t provide any documentation proving his debt, legal notices, or evidence of the travel ban.”

Neha said that when she suggested paying off his debt, he kept increasing the amount. “That’s when I realised he didn’t want small amounts; he wanted one big sum, nearly Dh200,000 all at once from me. It showed he was in it for the long haul.”

“When I started questioning him, he became extremely aggressive,” Neha said “I decided to leave him.”

Later, Neha discovered that all the information Amar shared about himself was fake, “Once we broke up, I learned from friends that all those calls were also fake,” she said

“He fabricated calls, his travel ban, and his entire financial situation with me to extort a much larger sum at once. Fortunately, we broke up before he could succeed in his scheme. Initially, he tried to win me back after the breakup, but soon realised I knew more than he thought. He’s still out there, living his life as if nothing happened, and likely searching for his next victim.”

Names of women have been changed to protect their identity.


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