Tim Elliot: Hello and welcome to Lawgical, the regular podcast from the Dubai-based law firm, HPL Yamalova & Plewka, still the Gulf Region’s first and only legal podcast. I’m Tim Elliot, I’m back here, socially distanced in Dubai’s JLT, Jumeirah Lakes Towers District at the firm’s offices with the Managing Partner, Ludmila Yamalova. Always good to see you, Ludmila.
Ludmila Yamalova: Wonderful to see you too, Tim. It’s been too long.
Tim Elliot: Today, we’re also joined by Zaid Abu Dahab. Now, Zaid is a senior paralegal here at the firm and has a story to tell that is going to form the basis of today’s podcast. It is all hinging around trust. Zaid, good to see you.
Zaid Abu Dahab: Yes, I am happy to be here. Nice to see you as well, Tim.
Tim Elliot: If you’re both ready to go, let’s get Lawgical. Now, we’re going to start with an anecdote. It’s an anecdote that includes the sad tale of a refrigerator and its owner, I believe. Zaid, I’m going to hand it over to you to tell the story.
Zaid Abu Dahab: The story is still a bit of an open wound since it happened earlier this week. What happened was in an ice removing incident that occurred, I’d say, sometime last week, I had damaged the fridge and decided that I needed someone to come and take a look at it. It was sometime in the evening and so I was a bit desperate for an urgent fix. I went on Google, scanned online for some random repairman to come in and take it a look at it, and so they did. It was just a random number that I saw in the ads on Google. The bloke comes in and says that they can fix the fridge within 24 hours. I thought, wow, that sounds pretty efficient, so why not? I’ll go for that. They needed money upfront for the parts, which I handed over, along with the fridge and since then I’ve been constantly promised that my fridge will be returned, and well, it hasn’t. The guy since has just vanished in a puff of smoke, if you will, and that’s essentially left me with some very warm vegetables.
Tim Elliot: And lots of thawed out fish fingers. Essentially, what you were doing was you were thawing out everything? The freezer had iced up or the fridge had iced up?
Zaid Abu Dahab: It was the freezer. There was a lot of ice built up.
Tim Elliot: Right. Okay. Normally you just switch the fridge off, and that would then thaw, and that would disappear, but you unfortunately damaged it getting the ice off.
Zaid Abu Dahab: Yea.
Tim Elliot: You needed to call in the guys to do that. You called these guys in. They come in. They cart off the fridge with them. You pay for the spare parts. What happens when you follow up? Nothing has happened at all so far. Are they avoiding your calls?
Zaid Abu Dahab: There were the initial promises of, oh, you know, there has been another issue which has surfaced and so we need some more time to get everything sorted, but we can deliver it, like the next day. Then the next day, of course, there was some radio silence, and when I eventually follow up, they are, oh no, there has been another issue, something wrong with the delivery, etc., etc., until it got to the point where my number was blocked and they just wouldn’t answer the calls anymore.
Tim Elliot: How long is that in days, in hours?
Zaid Abu Dahab: It took them about a week from when they initially said they were going to deliver it to when they just completely stopped answering the calls. It might have had something to do with the threats to go to the police, but that’s how long it took.
Tim Elliot: Okay. Do you know where these people are based? Have you been to their workshop? Do they have a workshop?
Zaid Abu Dahab: Well, they allegedly do have a workshop. It’s not one that had an address listed on the piece of paper which they said was an invoice, but on second gland really doesn’t seem to be a proper receipt or explanation of what it meant to do.
Tim Elliot: You feel in the moment as though essentially you called these guys in, they come in saying they’re going to fix your fridge, but actually they just steal white goods from apartments, from houses, in order to, I guess, sell them. That’s how you feel?
Zaid Abu Dahab: Yea. That’s pretty much how it appears to me. I think if it was any sort of legitimate company that had any intention of fixing the fridge, they would have at least called to perhaps deliver the fridge back, of if there was an issue with it, but the vanishing, not answering any calls, the phone is now out of reach and has been for a few days, so unless he’s trapped in the desert, I think that is what has happened.
Tim Elliot: It’s an unusual case I think, Ludmila. I mean, it’s a sad time of year as well with the heat that we go through here in the summer and in the mid-40s most days, so there is certainly a need for refrigeration. Have you heard of anything like this before?
Ludmila Yamalova: You used an interesting choice of words, an unusual case. I was going to preface my lead in with a small bet that we had within the firm when Zaid retold his story. We voted for who thought this was a scam versus those who thought it was just a delayed process of the fridge to be returned imminently. I was on the classical scam side of the camp. This is why, to me, this is a very classical scam in a number of ways. I’ll run through some of the perhaps red flags from the outset, and then also lessons that could have been used and that should be used for anyone who is listening to this particular story. It is a very pointed and timely story for a number of reasons, and perhaps this is why I call it a fairly classical scam. I have been in this part of the world for now 12 years, and I have seen new and inventive ways of people perhaps swindling others from their money, possessions, and goods in every more creative ways every time there is a bit of a downcycle. Let’s face it, now we are in the wake and still a bit in the thick of the pandemic, and a lot of people have lost jobs and people are in a dire situation and struggling. Every time I have seen a cycle like that, you do see new and, I guess, interesting and in many ways, very small, almost petty-like scams that appear, and perhaps this is why Zaid, who does work at a law firm, who has a fairly seasoned mind and an intelligent person, he’s fallen for the most classical, perhaps fraudulent schemes and red flags, including just not even really knowing who this person to whom he gave his fridge and money was, not even having a name of the person. But at the same time as a I say that, it’s understandable because what is this? What are we talking about? We’re not talking about a boat. We are not talking about a car. We are not talking about a plane. We are talking about a fridge. It’s so small and seemingly so petty. That’s why perhaps some of the most natural questions one would normally ask did not quite come up.
Tim Elliot: This would be my point. It’s a fridge. It’s not a huge high-ticket item in the grand scheme of things. But the more you think about it, the more you think about this from the scammer’s point of view, this is a numbers game. If you can hire a truck, pick something up from somebody, sell that and just ignore them for the price of picking up a fridge for – I don’t know – 50 dirhams, 100 dirhams, hiring a truck, whatever it is, you can sell that on for 500 or 1,000 dirhams, you can see why if you get the numbers this is a potentially successful scam.
Ludmila Yamalova: Well, of course. Don’t forget in addition to giving the fridge, Zaid also gave money, $750 dirhams. For a lot of people 750 dirhams is almost a month’s worth of salary payments for a lot of people here in the U.A.E. Even that alone, even if this is your only deal of the week or the month, that’s a significant amount of money for someone. Granted there are expenses such as you said, car, phone, gas, and such and such, but it’s more likely than not that this was, as you said, a numbers game exercise and there were many other similar deals that were being conducted at the same time. But what’s interesting and one of the first questions I asked Zaid is, why did you give money upfront and the full amount of money? Because that is one classical thing you either question or you don’t do, and that is, you don’t pay upfront. Again, because of perhaps the total ticket value which was 750 dirhams, and Zaid is a very trusting person obviously and he was very eager to get the fridge back, and this is why we chose to talk about this particular story, because there are a lot of human elements that are involved. He needed the fridge. He was grateful that this person showed up at his door promptly and promised to return the repaired good very quickly. All the positive expectations were all in place and perhaps that’s what triggered him to so generously part with his money without asking the most basic questions.
Now, from the legal perspective, there are also a number of valuable lessons. Again, there are a lot of human elements involved as to why this was note done. One is that you always need to know who you are dealing with. There are a lot of resources out there online, on the internet, that are available in terms of numbers and websites and names of people who provide various services, but at the end, if you ever wanted to bring an action against someone, and I know this is perhaps a little too legalistic or formalistic to be thinking, but when you are transacting with any party that you do not know, you always need to think about in the event something were to happen, who would you go after? Just a number on a website or on Google somewhere, that’s not a helpful link to go after. You actually need to have the name of either a person or an entity. That’s number one.
Number two, when you call someone to get your fridge fixed, obviously you are dealing with two types of entities. One is actually the legal entity presumably, the company that picks up fridges and fixes them, and then two, an individual who presents or represents this particular entity. In this case, what Zaid should have done and what people need to do whenever they perhaps transact in a similar fashion, is ask for details from that particular person, get a copy of their emirates ID or their passport. These are very basic questions. That being said, and as I say that, we hear this all the time when we ask, for example, for copies of trade licenses or copies of passports or copies of emirates ID whenever we as a firm transact with third parties, or on behalf of our clients, and we always get this, “Well, why do you need this?” Or, “This is so excessive. You are the only one who is asking.”
Tim Elliot: That’s a very good point. I mean, who would ask? When you deal with the maintenance company coming in, who’s going to ask, practically speaking, for the person that comes to your door for a copy of their emirates ID? You generally, I suppose, trust that the maintenance company is legitimate, and they’re allowed to cross the threshold.
Ludmila Yamalova: This is why this is such a classical and also interesting example because Zaid is not a gullible individual. He is not new to this part of the world or this kind of environment. If anyone should have asked that question, he certainly should have been the one. Yet, he didn’t. Why? Exactly for that reason, the reason you just said. How many of us, and to be honest with you, I don’t even know if it were me, if I would have pressed for a copy of his emirates ID, but the problem is that if you do want to bring a case, how do you track this person down? All you have at this point is a phone number. Now, we are led to believe a number of things that exist in this part of the world, one is that if you have a phone number for someone that you’ll be able to trace them down no matter what. As Zaid discovered, and this is very typical – predictable perhaps, not typical – is that yes, a phone number can ultimately be traced to the actual individual. However, this is a fairly laborious exercise and for the authorities to get involved, and by the authorities I mean the police or the prosecutors to get involved in tracing who the person is that is registered to this phone number, you can imagine they would be inundated with these kinds of requests and that is perhaps not the best use of their time. In fact, as Zaid heard firsthand from the police officers when he did visit the police station is that yes, ultimately, they can trace the person to the number if this is a matter of national security. That’s obviously when it makes sense for the authorities to dedicate time and resources to trace that sort of activity, but under the current circumstances for the swindling of a fridge and 750 dirhams the authorities are understandably less likely to be interested in trying to trace that lead.
Tim Elliot: Even in the heat of mid-summer.
Ludmila Yamalova: Even in the heat of the mid-summer. Furthermore, let’s perhaps not be naïve, we don’t even know if the number itself actually would have been linked to this particular person. There are different ways of having multiple numbers, closing numbers, changing numbers, borrowing phones of other people you know, so it’s not even really a necessary conclusion that they if they traced the number that they would have been able to trace the person.
There is another angle to it as well. We thought, and these are the questions we asked of Zaid, how about CCTV? Obviously, this person came into the building and took a fairly big appliance out of the building, so certainly there should be some CCTV. There should be some kind of document or evidence of his identity and his coming in and going out of the building would have been captured. This perhaps is also the explanation as to why this particular person didn’t drop off the line of communication immediately because maybe they know that usually CCTV and other technological means that we rely on store data only for X number of days. After that it gets scrapped. It may be, it is speculation, but don’t forget. If Zaid were to back the next day and perhaps ask his building supervisor to release to him a copy of the CCTV footage, maybe there would have been something there that would have allowed the police to act on. Maybe if he had gone and asked security whether the person signed in and left the details of his emirates ID, maybe the data would have been there, but a week later, all that information, even if it existed in the beginning, would have been lost. Here we rely on, and one of the huge benefits that we all enjoy living in this part of the world, that it is very safe. One of the safety elements is that we know they are cameras everywhere, CCTV, and we all think that, hey, when the time comes we’ll be able to just tap in and get that footage and have everything documented, but this is in fact what Zaid was told by the police. This is why so many trusting people end up, or I guess the society breeds so many trusting people, because we don’t ask the basic questions we would ask otherwise, and then why people just let random people ultimately come into their place and take their appliances and take their money and not even ask questions about it, it’s because we know ultimately this is a safe society. In fact, that’s exactly what Zaid was also told by the police, that a lot of people prey on that. They prey on the trustworthiness and the gullibility, I guess, and the way of us living here because we do enjoy the benefits of the society being so safe.
Tim Elliot: It underlines, doesn’t it, that there is very little you can do if you’re a victim to an act like this, a fraudulent act like this?
Zaid Abu Dahab: You see on that, I think, and this is something that came up when I went to the police station, but it’s that . . . now again, the police could have potentially done the whole triangulation thing where they find this person based on the phone number. I guess they didn’t think it was worth it for, not a new fridge, but a broken one, but if I’d given them more to go on, like the guy’s emirates ID or the license plate number for the car that came and took the fridge, then that might have been enough for them to say, okay, we can investigate this and it would make sense for us. I think even if it’s a fraudulent act, which is not a huge loss necessarily, but they can still act on it if you give them enough to go on, so that’s goes back to the idea that you should get all of the documentation.
Tim Elliot: Which makes sense, but in this instance it’s hard to prove conclusively that there has been a crime here because you called them, you let them in, you gave them the money, unfortunately, unwittingly, and I suppose if the police ever do find them, the excuse will be something like, well, we tried to call the guy for his fridge and we couldn’t get a hold of him. It’s very hard to prove conclusively that something untoward happened, Ludmila.
Ludmila Yamalova: For sure and that also further highlights the basic documentation that could have existed there, but again I understand why normal, ordinary people don’t really think of it. For example, just even a handwritten note, yes, I gave you 750 dirhams, yes, you took that money, and yes, you took the fridge, just a handwritten note. Perhaps if you had the handwritten note, maybe it would become more obvious that you also need to have the name of the guy and perhaps the date and the phone number and at least you would have had something and maybe if you had written down, okay, I’m giving you 750 dirhams, okay, who am I giving money to? Who is the you? Maybe he would have been prompted to ask for the name. Maybe he would have been prompted to ask for the name of the company. These things, they evolve, and they develop in the thick of the process, but if you don’t even initiate the process, they don’t really come to you. Since he works at a law firm, one, I would bet that had he actually gone through that exercise, he might have asked a few additional questions which would have revealed perhaps additional details and at the end would have given him more tools to go on when he realized that this wasn’t really what he signed up for. Two, it could also then in the process transpired that the person would have realized, hey, this is not the right kind of a victim. This guy is asking too many questions. Maybe at this point I will just say, sorry, I’ve looked at the fridge, it doesn’t fit into my car, or something. We have also seen that when you start asking questions with crooks like that, then at some point they give up. You could have also had that result. Instead, this is where we are.
As small of a case is it is, it is extremely important because it carries so many different repercussions and so many important lessons, not just with this particular incident, but also for just general, basic due diligence that we all need to do, and we don’t do. We’ve covered a similar topic in many of the previous podcasts, and that is the basic due diligence that people fail to do. For example, even signing a rental agreement, there have been so many scams involving that particular subject matter where a tenant signs an agreement for property without having seen the title deed or having seen the identification papers of the owner who is listed on the title deed. Instead, they are signing documents with a party that legally speaking has nothing to do with the transaction under which they are issuing checks and signing documents. Again, this is a basic level of due diligence which we all need to do. It’s improving, and yet today still this happens all too often where we’re just too afraid to ask the questions because we are the only ones asking those questions.
Tim Elliot: It is tough times at the moment. You can understand why this happened. It is a lesson learned. When your fridge breaks down in the summer and you call somebody and they come quickly, you can see why these kinds of things happen. It’s clearly a scam from what we’ve learned, unfortunately. Do you see lots of like things like this? Are you seeing more scams of this nature?
Ludmila Yamalova: If you recall, we even did a podcast on this. We’ve seen scams related to a somewhat higher ticket price on cars.
Tim Elliot: The cars. Yea.
Ludmila Yamalova: There are similar scams related to cars. There were scams before related to properties, in particular rental properties where so-called agents or representatives would come and take tenants checks and even cash for deposits and such, all on account of allegedly representing an owner for the particular property and then cashing those checks and then packing their bags and leaving. Yes, we’ve seen similar scams. They are very typical across the world. It’s just something that is that small, relatively speaking, perhaps is less susceptible to questions at the outset because it’s so small. But yes, we’ve seen this. If you recall, there are also incidents again, if I think back, usually during the downside because when people, for example, on the streets would approach you and often they were people that were wearing local gear or local outfits, and they say, listen, I just got stranded here. My car broke down or something. Can you me 500 dirhams? We’ve seen scams that were on that basis. Then authorities have gone out on record and said, please, be mindful, these are all scams.
Now that you ask the question, it’s a good question, because we’ve also seen people even knocking on our door here in our office in JLT over many years, once again, dressed in official looking outfits and trying to sell some kind of a magazine or some advertising space somewhere or some sponsorship or funding of some allegedly charitable cause. They will come, looking very important, and they would start with all of the we love the U.A.E. kind of message, and then I’m sure certainly as a business you can donate $10,000 or $15,000 dirhams. We’ve had all of these cases, and even here at this firm, and we know a number of other businesses were approached in the same way in this very tower over the years. Then when you start asking questions, okay, so who are you? Can we get a copy of your trade license and a copy of your ID? Then you see people scurrying away very quickly thereafter. So yes, we have seen this, and this is why this a valuable, albeit painful, lesson. But it is a valuable lesson, especially now that we’re going through these challenge times. Remember to take a step back. When something sounds too good to be true, perhaps it is too good to be true. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and have documentation, especially when you part with money and goods.
Tim Elliot: The classic scam is the man apparently from Italy selling new suits. I’ve had that a number of times on 6 Zion Road, and I still don’t own a suit, I’m glad to say. Practically speaking, Ludmila, what can or should Zaid do next?
Ludmila Yamalova: At this point, unfortunately, he has exhausted all of his options. The only practical move forward for him is to invest in a new fridge. But this is also an interesting angle because perhaps in the past Zaid would have loved to have bought a used fridge on Dubizzle, or somewhere, especially now. This is the time, but after having gone through this, I think he is less interested in perhaps taking another chance because as we know with appliances they may look perfectly safe and working, but when you bring them home and start operating them, there could be all sorts of issues. Those scams also exist. Perhaps in the past, Zaid would have bought a fridge off someone else. Now he is a lot less interested in doing so. Practically, at this point, he needs to, and I think he has already done that, invest in a new fridge. In the future, you ultimately just ask questions before you give anybody money unless you are prepared to give it as a gift. Ask questions and don’t be afraid to get copies of documentation.
Tim Elliot: If we can give the last word to Zaid for this particular podcast. Zaid, what have you done? Have you been out and bought a new fridge?
Zaid Abu Dahab: Yes. I made the decision earlier this week once it became apparent to me, once all hope had left and it became apparent to me that it was a scam, I made the decision to bite the bullet and get a new fridge. It should be arriving today, I hope. This painful lesson that we’ve all been reminded of at my expense I think is that when you’ve got rose-tinted glasses on, all of the red flags are just going to look like flags. Don’t ignore those warning signs, like I did. Yea, it’s called due diligence for a reason. Make sure that you’ve done your research and you’ve asked all the right questions before you hand over your fridge and end up with a very, very expensive fridge removal job.
Tim Elliot: You know what, it’s a lesson learned, and that’s a nice thing to hear. Zaid, I really appreciate you sharing your story. Zaid is a senior paralegal here at Yamalova & Plewka. A painful tale. Lesson learned. I really appreciate it. Nice to talk to you.
Zaid Abu Dahab: It was nice to be on the set of the podcast.
Tim Elliot: Also, Ludmila Yamalova, the Managing Partner here at Yamalova & Plewka, it’s been great chatting with you. Now that we’re coming out of lockdown in Dubai as well, nice to see you.
Ludmila Yamalova: Great to see you too. I hope for a lot more chats in person.
Tim Elliot: If you have a legal question you need answered in a future episode of Lawgical, or if you’d like a consultation with a qualified U.A.E. experienced legal professional, all you have to do is hit the Contact button at LYLawyers.com. Plus, you can now WhatsApp us here as well, 00971 52 525 1611.