With the UAE continuing to bar commercial flights from India on account of COVID-19, thousands of NRIs stranded in their motherland have been worried about job security and families. Excluding certain categories such as UAE citizens, diplomats and golden visa holders, the UAE currently denies entry to anyone who has transited through India 14 days prior to arrival in the UAE.
As a result of their desperation, many stranded NRIs have opted for 'circuitous' flights via places such as Armenia and Uzbekistan, where they spend 14 days in quarantine to fulfil the criteria for entry to the UAE. However, given that circuitous travel may not be affordable to all, many of these NRIs are still looking at means to reach the UAE by direct charter flights. These have also put them at risk of being targeted by fraudsters.
On Tuesday, Khaleej Times reported that it had investigated a phony website (https://www.uaeembassy.in/), which had been issuing ‘approval letters’, purportedly allowing entry to stranded UAE residents in return for payment.
The URL of the official UAE website is https://www.mofaic.gov.ae/en/missions/new-delhi. But a search on Google for 'UAE embassy' and India throws up the phony website among the first few results.
"The bogus portal went offline not long after Khaleej Times reported it to the relevant UAE authorities. But while it was live until the evening of July 26, it reportedly looked so convincing that those anxious to return to their jobs or be reunited with their families fell for it hook, line and sinker... Those running the forged site continued to respond to emails and carry out transactions until the time of publishing this story on Tuesday. They did so while impersonating UAE diplomats…," Khaleej Times reported.
Khaleej Times reported a Dubai-based healthcare professional had paid Rs 8,000 for an approval letter to allow her daughter to return to Dubai. "The letter had a non-existent ‘UAE’s Ministry of Interior and Naturalization & Immigration Department (sic)’ header gleaming at the top. At the bottom was a purported signature by the Director of Dubai’s General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs (GDRFA)…," Khaleej Times reported.
The woman claimed she received emails from the fake embassy website directing her to contact an "agent" on WhatsApp.
An engineer based in Sharjah told Khaleej Times he paid "just over 1,500 dirhams” (around Rs 30,000) for approval letters for his family of four. The engineer told Khaleej Times, "I was led to the website after a Google search threw up its link at the very top. Even the email address looked genuine, although there were telltale signs—like an email asking for an agent to be contacted on WhatsApp for payment. I wish I had done my due diligence."
A UAE diplomat told Khaleej Times "UAE Embassy in India cannot and will not issue any special approval letter to fly out of India to the UAE."
Flights suspended until August 2
Flights from India to the UAE will remain suspended until at least August 2, Etihad, the flag carrier of Abu Dhabi, announced on Monday. Direct flight services from India to the UAE were suspended on April 24.