Stay alert! We take a look at the most common scams targeting expats in Dubai and how to avoid them
6 April 2021| Last updated on 24 April 2023
A full guide to the most common scams any expat should be aware of when in Dubai.
On top of a massive variety of things to see and do in the city, Dubai is also home to some of the most beautiful sights and cultures in the world.
But Dubai, like pretty much every major city in the world, has its own share of scammers targeting people for easy money.
We've compiled a list of the most common scams in Dubai, and a guide on how to protect yourself from getting scammed while staying in the emirate.
1. Phone call claiming you've won a prize
Like all con artists around the globe, thieves and scammers in Dubai will try to take advantage of people.
One of the most common fraudulent schemes in Dubai are cold callers congratulating you that "you've won the lottery" or you're going to receive a "special prize", such as a new car or house.
They will typically ask you to dial another number, input a code, share your passport or Emirates ID details, or ask for your bank details. Don't be fooled as lotteries in Dubai will not notify you this way.
2. PayPal scams
PayPal is usually a convenient and safe method of paying for goods and services online.
However, there are cases where UAE residents are targeted for PayPal scams, usually through classifieds and email.
3. Unofficial Dubai taxis
While in Dubai, you will no doubt use a taxi at one point or another. While taxis in Dubai are regulated by the Dubai Taxi Corporation (DTC) and Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), you might get duped into paying high rates from fraudsters pretending to be cab drivers.
Always be sure to take taxis with the yellow taxi sign on top and a registered number inside. A tip: When catching cabs from landmarks, such as shopping malls, restaurants, and the airport, you might spot designated spots for official DTC taxis.
You can also book a taxi ride online from the Careem app by selecting "Hala Taxi".
4. Broken taxi meters
There is an off-chance you might take a cab that looks like an official taxi from the outside, but is being driven by a scammer who claims that the meter is broken.
Before you start your trip, always be sure that the meter is working and has a regular starting price, which will vary depending on the time and location you were picked up from.
The government-standardised starting fare for Dubai taxis are as follows:
- Dubai taxis: 6am to 10pm - AED 5 to 12 (depending on the location)
- Dubai airport taxis: AED 25
- Ladies' taxis: AED 6 during the day and evening / AED 7 from 10pm onwards
- Hatta taxi: AED 25
5. Fake gold and counterfeit luxury products
Although Dubai is famous for its luxury shopping and sprawling gold souks, always be aware of where you're shopping. If you're browsing at a major shopping centre, you can be rest assured the items being sold are genuine and you can shop with confidence.
However, if you're shopping for luxury brand items, gold, and jewelry at local stores, it's important to be sure that the store you're in has a registered number.
General rule: if the prices seem too good to be true, that's probably the case and the item is fake.
6. The begging mother scam
Common in most major cities around the world, the scammer will target people on the street or by going door to door in neighbourhoods. She will pressure you into giving her money to support her and her child, or for an emergency.
Begging is illegal in Dubai, and according to the UAE Federal Law No. 9 of 2018, a AED 5,000 fine and three months in jail will be given to those caught.
Simply refuse, politely. If you're concerned for the begging mother's wellbeing, offer to contact the police for support and you will see if she truly needs help or not.
7. Fake SIM cards or data packages
Whether you're an expat or a tourist in Dubai, it’s a good idea to buy a local SIM card to save on cell phone costs.
The process of signing up for a SIM card may feel like a bit of a chore due to the formal requirements, such as filling in the sign-up form, providing your passport, ID details, etc. However, it's always better to take the time to get an official SIM card rather than purchase a quick-and-instant SIM card from an unofficial vendor in Dubai.
Not only might the SIM card not work, some scammers will also ask you to pre-load the SIM card or purchase fake data packages, so you'll be left wasting extra dirhams.
It's recommended to approach official branches from Etisalat, Du, or Virgin Mobile instead of random vendors.
8. The impersonators
Fraudsters will reach out to you claiming to be a family member, someone from work, or they will pretend to be from the bank to gain access to your confidential details such as your bank account, passport, etc.
This often happens through a WhatsApp message, email or text. Avoid clicking unknown links as it could lead to malicious sites. Avoid downloading any software they share as well. Many in the past have easily lost their savings within seconds.
Scammers might also attempt to trick you through a phone call, posing as an official from a bank or other government entity.
9. Financial and investment frauds
Be careful when investing in Dubai, as there are some scammers posing as financial consultants or representatives for fake companies.
They work by encouraging you to invest in fake companies, Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) or Pyramid Schemes where you will be asked to pay a certain amount to start your own "get-rich-quick business", or to put your funds in offshore banks for higher returns.
How to verify the authenticity of a business in Dubai and the UAE
To confirm the authenticity of business activities registered, licences issued in the UAE, and avoid scams in Dubai, here's how:
- Inquire by business name or business activity through the UAE Ministry of Economy's Unified Commercial Registration System; or -
- Search their Trade Name through the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development, here.
- Search their Trade Name through the Dubai Economy site.
- Search their Trade Name through the Economic Development Department of Sharjah, here.
10. WhatsApp scams
It's quite common for phishing texts to circulate on WhatsApp and other messaging apps in Dubai.
How this works is that fraudsters will circulate fake news online, encouraging users to click on a link to find out more information. The link would take users to fake websites with the intentions to steal important and sensitive details from them.
11. Contactless card readers
This may be one of the hardest to avoid if you frequent the Dubai Metro. During busy rush hours, when commuters are pressed close to each other in the train, scammers brush against people with a contactless card reader and can steal money from your card without you noticing.
This may be harder to resolve if they stole money from your debit card. To protect yourself, consider wrapping your cards in foil or keeping the wallet inside your bag rather than putting them in your trouser pocket.
Other common scams you might run into while in Dubai include:
- Fake food or item delivery emails
- Phone calls from scammers claiming they're from Du, Etisalat or Virgin Mobile, and charging you high fees
- Classified ads scams where scammers will ask for your PayPal details
How to avoid getting scammed in Dubai
When staying in any major city, it’s always best to be cautious of scams. Although you probably won’t be affected by them, it’s better to be vigilant and cautious when dealing with any suspicious activity.
Here are some tips to avoid scammers' tricks while in Dubai.
- If you see or suspect a scam, report the individual or their phone number to Dubai Police
- Never share personal information to random phone calls and messages
- Do not continue conversations with cold callers promising attractive prizes
- Be aware of your surroundings. Avoid staying glued to your phone or a map in public and busy places
- Don’t be afraid to be rude. Ignore beggars trying to pressure you for help
- When shopping in local souks and stores, try not to make purchasing decisions too quickly
Dubai is mostly a perfectly safe city to visit and live in. However, no country in the world is free of crime so it's best to be streetwise as an expat resident.