New technology leads to increase in mobile-phone crime [National, The (United Arab Emirates)]
(National, The (United Arab Emirates) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) DUBAI // New technology has caused an increase in mobile-phone crime rates in the emirate, a criminal investigation officer in cybercrime at Dubai Police said yesterday.
Blackmail was one of the most significant problems, as well as fake cash awards and international call scams.
"We were tipped off by reliable sources that some people were involved in communications fraud," said Lt Abdulla Alshahi.
"After arresting the suspects, we found that they would make international calls by connecting a device called SimBox to a computer which, in turn, is connected to an overseas server. This allows fraudsters to make international calls cheaper than the legal cost, causing du and Etisalat to suffer losses.
"This is a particularly difficult issue to deal with because most of these sim cards with local numbers are not registered to specific people, so it's really hard to find out who does all these crimes."
Lt Alshahi was speaking at a seminar on mobile-phone crimes at Intersec, the region's largest security and safety exhibition, at the World Trade Centre in Dubai.
With each SimBox able to host up to 24 sim cards with two lines each, and an international rate of Dh5 per minute, service providers risk losing up to Dh14,400 an hour if all 48 lines are fraudulently used at once.
"These are huge losses," said Lt Alshahi. "And criminals are now using smart devices so the challenge for us is much greater."
This type of crime is not new in the UAE. In 2011, the number of mobile-phone users in the country who became victims of cyber attacks was double the global average.
Statistics from Symantec, an online security company, estimated the net cost of cybercrime in the country at Dh2.3 billion in 2011, consisting mainly of the value of time lost. It estimated the actual amount of money lost at Dh770 million.
"One of the issues we find with technology crimes, especially with mobile phones, is blackmail," he said.
"Since the early days of the internet, blackmail has been prominent, people hack into personal photos and use them for blackmail."
Other crimes include fake cash awards, where people are told to send credit to a phone number to claim their prize.
"A phone-fraud phenomenon has been spreading in the UAE," said Lt Alshahi. "People get those calls almost every day and criminals target Emiratis as well as Asian workers. The number of mobile-phone crimes are relatively low, but as technology advances, that number is increasing."
Andy Williams, a detective sergeant at the National Mobile Phone Crime Unit of the Metropolitan Police – New Scotland Yard in the UK, said a worldwide database to block stolen phones would help to reduce crime rates dramatically.
"Within 48 hours of being stolen, the phone gets blocked in the UK," he said. "The problem is that it's only in the UK. Worldwide blocking of handsets would help a lot. If a phone gets stolen in London or Dubai, it wouldn't work anywhere else and that would really help reduce phone crime."
Experts called for increased law enforcement.
"Other countries should take the example of the UK," said David Rogers, the director of Copper Horse Solutions, a UK-based mobile software and security firm.
"We're going into a world of wearables so the value of what you're carrying as an individual is increasing.
"Realistically, kids nowadays have £1,000 (Dh6,000) worth of products on them so we're in a completely new world and we have to adapt to it."
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