Saudi Central Bank forms team to probe online scam as experts warn about loophole’ in e-financing
RIYADH: Fraudsters are inventing new ways to con people out of their money by using social media websites and fake job offers to lure in unsuspecting Saudis.
As many companies in the Kingdom move towards increasing their quota of skilled workers, Saudis are seeking better job opportunities and using special job sites to find work.
In the past few days, a video widely circulated on social media showed a young man named Ammar who said that he applied for a job on LinkedIn to work for NEOM Company through a recruitment agency.
The job poster asked him to provide a CV and ID number, he said.
Soon after he spoke to the supposed recruitment agent, Ammar was scammed out of SR15,000 ($4,000), he warned in the five-minute video.
Ammar said that he applied for the job two weeks beforehand, and that within a week, a person of “Asian descent” called him from a Saudi number for an interview. In the interview, the man asked Ammar the usual questions normally put forward in a job interview, such as employment history and salary negotiation.
“He was very professional and his English was fluent,” Ammar said, adding: “I was told I was shortlisted and to expect a second interview call within a week.”
But in order to finalize the process, the man asked Ammar to provide him with a code number sent to his phone. After receiving it — from the same company he applied through on LinkedIn — he sent through the code, and the rest was history.
Ammar learned that the fraudsters were able to take out a loan of SR15,000 in his name. He warned that 10 of his friends were conned out of money the same way.
“The fraudsters must have conned many people like me using the same tricks,” he said.
The Saudi Central Bank (SAMA) issued a statement Friday saying that it was following up on Ammar’s story and that it was aware of the scam.
According to the statement, SAMA has formed a team to investigate the scams and said that the financing company mentioned in the video was a SAMA-licensed company and was allowed to practice microfinance through fintech services.
The microfinance company was directed to take corrective measures to prevent the scam, while SAMA said that it will continue to investigate the matter and urge preventive measures.
SAMA warned the Saudi public to avoid sharing personal information with any party whose identity is unproven. If suspicious transactions are discovered, the incident must be reported to security authorities and SAMA through its platform.
Khalid Alyehya, a member of the Saudi Bar Association, warned that the video fails to provide enough evidence, and lacks an explanation for how the two parties agreed to and signed the contract remotely.
Another question that must be answered concerns the account the loan was deposited to, and whether it was the account of the applicant or the account of the hacker, Alyehya said. He added: “Something is afoot and needs clarification.”
He said: “The person on the video said that he applied for a job then discovered that his name was on the microfinance company’s list of borrowers. I have a lot of questions on my mind before I can confirm what happened exactly.
“Do the financing laws allow e-financing? Maybe this is possible through sending electronic copies, but what about signing a contract? To sign a contract, you have to be present physically, because your identity will be checked to ensure that you are competent enough to sign.”
Alyehya said that it will be difficult to confirm negligence or errors on the part of the contract parties before the investigation has concluded.
Dr. Salih Al-Sultan, a former senior consultant at the Ministry of Finance, said that it is important to conduct investigations into electronic scams, especially given today’s fast-paced online lifestyle.
He said that SAMA and intelligence authorities, including the Artificial Intelligence Authority, should work together and benefit from the experience of central banks in other countries, adding that microfinance companies should be required to prove that they are aware of technical scams and the methods behind them.