Cybercrime on the rise in Oman

MUSCAT // Police have warned that online fraud in Oman is on the rise and urge both Omanis and expatriates to be more vigilant when accessing their bank accounts both in the country and abroad.

According to a police spokesman, cybercrime in Oman increased by six per cent in 2016 to US$90 million (Dh330.5m) compared to a year earlier.

“Most of the frauds are committed by online money transfer, credit cards and debit cards used through cash machines either in the country or abroad. Also, online transactions are another problem when people buy something or transfer money through the internet,” a police spokesman told The National.

He said expatriates are more likely than Omanis to be victims.

“About 58 per cent of cyber crimes happen to expatriates because they send money back home every month using the online channels where criminals get access to their bank accounts details,” he added.

Financial experts said the most common crimes are when hackers get into the email accounts of their victims to access banking accounts.

“When you access your bank account in public places or internet cafes, especially abroad, you become vulnerable to hackers who could have access to your bank details,” said Ahmed Al Mabsali, director of Muscat financial transaction company.

Other financial experts said phishing is also common in Oman, whereby people make calls or send emails asking for bank details, pretending they represent reputable companies.

“People get duped when someone asks [for] information pretending they are from your bank and want your account number and password,” said Qais Al Sunaidi, a retired banker.

He advised people not to give details of their bank accounts on the phone or emails, and not to send the same information from public internets or internet cafes.

“When you travel abroad, try not to use your debit card to draw money from banks. When using credit cards, make sure the shop or hotel is reputable. If you suspect something, call your bank immediately to stop the transaction,” Mr Al Sunaidi added.

Omani Said Al Junaihi was a victim of cybercrime recently. He found the hotel he was staying in Kuala Lumpur overcharged him by 900 rials (Dh8,892) last month.

“I should have paid about half of that for the four days I stayed but I was surprised when I got a statement when I came back to Muscat,” Mr Al Junaihi said.

Hackers also skim credit and debit cards to get access to their victims’ bank accounts.

“These criminals put a device in the card reader or a camera in the ATM machines to get your bank details. You can check if the card reader at the ATM has been tampered with or has a suspicious device that looks like a camera,” Mr Al Sunaidi said.

In September last year, Omani police arrested a gang of 14 skimmers — criminals who use small devices to capture credit and debit cards. According to police records, the gang defrauded bank customers of about 525,000 rials before their arrest.

But individuals are not the only victims of online fraud, financial institutions are often targeted as well.

In February 2013, hackers got away with $39m after they hacked into Bank Muscat, Oman’s largest bank.

The Central Bank of Oman has urged local banks to invest more on technologies to cut down the number of fraudulent cases in banking transactions.

“Banks need to invest more money in acquiring better technology to protect its transactions and their customers from online or any other financial frauds that lead to the access of account information. The risk is rising every year,” according to an article in the Al Markaz magazine, a quarterly publication of the Central Bank of Oman.


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