DUBAI: Call centre agents in Pakistan are impersonating UAE government officials to extort ‘legalisation fees’ from fake degree and diploma holders in the country, XPRESS can reveal.
Between 2009 and 2015, over 200,000 people in 197 countries, including the UAE, paid up to Dh100,000 for professional online courses at universities such as Midtown, Rochville, Brooklyn Park, Gibson, Grant Town, Ashley, Nixon, Campbell, Belford and Paramount California.
Little did they know these universities, among 350 others, were fake. They were not based in the US or UK as people were made to believe. Instead, they existed only in the virtual world and were operated from Karachi by controversial Pakistan IT firm Axact.
Threat and impersonation
Now Axact has come up with another trick to dupe its victims – impersonation and blackmail.
Speaking in an Emirati accent, Axact telesale agents are calling clients and demanding thousands of dollars from degree holders towards the ‘legalisation fees’ of their certificates.
And since they use spoofing techniques which allow them to mimic any phone number — complete with area code — the recipients are deceived into believing that the calls are legitimate.
A South African expat in Dubai who forked out thousands of dollars for an academic certificate said he was shocked when a man, claiming to be a Dubai Police officer called him and asked him to remit $5,000 to the university towards degree ‘legalisation fee’ or face action. “When I called back the number ((04-609 999) that showed up on my cellphone it was answered by someone at Dubai Police Headquarters. Initially, I got scared and thought it was indeed them who had called but then I found out it was a scam so I ignored their subsequent calls,” he said.
Phony calls. A man holds up his cellphone on which he received spoofed calls mimicking Dubai Police Headquarters’ landline number. Right: Yasir Jamshaid (© xpress/mazhar farooqui)
Another expat who bought a degree from one such university said he got a similar call from a man who claimed he was from the ministry of human resource department. When XPRESS called the phone numbers they turned out to be the board line numbers of the two government entities. Former AXACT staff turned whistle blower Sayyad Yasir Jamshaid told XPRESS the company uses caller ID-spoofing which enables them to display a number different from the one from which the call was placed. “They’ve hired professionally trained call centre agents. Axact clients in other countries are also getting such calls,” he said.
Among the many who fell for the scam is a medical technologist in Al Ain. Fearing action, the woman sold all her jewellery to raise almost $70,000 of which $30,000 was remitted to AXACT the very night she got a call from an agent claiming to a representative of the UAE embassy in the US.
Speaking fluent Arabic, the agent told the Arab medical technologist that she would face legal action if she didn’t immediately pay the amount to cancel her many degrees and get an accredited one from a Sharjah university.
The Arab woman had bought 18 degrees from various AXACT run universities over three years for $60,000 to get a promotion. XPRESS has evidence showing she wired $69,100 to AXACT owned bogus Cambell University over two days after getting spoofed calls.
Back in business
Following startling revelations, Axact CEO Shoaib Ahmad Shaikh was arrested by Pakistan authorities in May 2015. In September 2016, he was granted bail by a District and Sessions Judge who later admitted before an inquiry panel to have taken a bribe of Rs5000,000 (Dh1,67,000) to pass the bail order.
Since his release, Facebook newsfeeds in the UAE are again inundated with advertisements offering ‘accredited online degrees’ in various streams.
Source Credit: Gulf News