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Experts in Oman caution against cyber criminals

Are you one of those who often receives fake telephone calls or e-mails from your ‘bank’ seeking personal account information with a veiled threat that your debit card might get blocked? Do you find it difficult to distinguish between genuine and fake communication and are often left in a tizzy? You are not alone in this dilemma as scores of citizens and residents in Oman have over the past few years been receiving such calls and e-mails from fraudsters trying and con unsuspecting individuals.

The incidence of such fraudulent activity has spiked in the past few months, leaving many people at the receiving end. A little caution and a little common sense can, however, safeguard you, say experts in Oman who believe that the problem can be reduced and gotten rid of only with the cooperation of people.

Tariq al Barwani, IT wizard and founder of Knowledge Oman, says, “This problem has existed and has been spoken about several times in Oman over the past five to six years. The fact is, people often tend to get deceived because they like to get rewarded and unknowingly play into the hands of fraudsters. We all need to resist these temptations and understand that some cyber criminals are at play.”

Barwani, who is prepared to organise instructional sessions for the general public at public places like malls and parks, especially for those on lower rungs of society who might not be familiar with technology and such deceptive tactics, says everyone needs to understand the basics to protect themselves and their resources. He, however, agreed that even educated persons get fooled when communication is made to appear as genuine as possible with company logos and branding details.

“When called by a fraudster, or if you receive a deceptive e-mail, always do the following: Ask the person who is calling for details like his/her name, name of the company and department, and offer to call back; call the bank or telecom company directly and seek clarification; never share personal or account-related information (PIN/OTP etc) with anyone as banks/telecom companies already have subscriber databases and never ask for such information; and lastly, keep yourself updated with the latest practices in the use of technology as well as about things happening in society these days,” Barwani cautions.

Haitham Hilal al Hajri, Cyber Security researcher and specialist in Cyber Security and Electronic Crimes, said, “Unfortunately, this is matter of cultural awareness and people need to understand that banking organisations won’t contact anyone via personal numbers or through unverified social media platforms.”

Fake calls or SMSes pretending to be on behalf of legitimate organisations are considered a global challenge and criminals have found a way to abuse the cyber world and e-services by deploying creative and lucrative scams online, Hajri pointed out, adding, “The best way for the common users to safeguard themselves against such attacks is to never respond to any request that seeks private/sensitive information such as date of birth, social security numbers, bank and card account numbers along with the CVS security code (the three digit number at the back of every bank card) and never share a received OTP (one-time passcode) to any one asking for it via social media channels.”

Hajri reiterated that it is advisable to call the banks or any organisations via the official channels available on their websites and to always report fraudulent callers to the organisation so they can take up the matter internally. “Users need to understand that concerned organisations already have your data and they won’t ask you to give it via public electronic means.

They have a verification process other than asking clients to spell their names and share bank numbers along with the security code or OTP,” he said, adding, “Again, this is considered a cultural education and awareness matter that the public needs to practice and understand to avoid becoming a victim of cyber crime.” Hajri also disclosed that the ROP has recently arrested many cyber criminals. They have been collaborating with various entities in this regard to combat the growing menace of these crimes, he said, calling on individuals not to be hesitant from reporting such matters to the ROP. People can call on hotlines: 80077444 or 9999