Tim Elliot: Hello and welcome to another edition of Lawgical Lite, the regular and slightly lighter, as the name would suggest, legal podcast from the Dubai-based law firm, HPL Yamalova & Plewka. Lawgical is by the way still the Gulf Region’s first and only legal podcast. I’m here on the 18th floor, socially distanced. My name is Tim Elliot, in Dubai’s JLT, Jumeirah Lakes Towers District at Yamalova & Plewka’s offices with the Managing Partner, Ludmila Yamalova. How good it is to see you, as ever.
Ludmila Yamalova: Always a pleasure to see you, Tim.
Tim Elliot: Today on Lawgical, a scam. Now, you mentioned this story in passing recently, but I’d like to unpack this a little bit Ludmila to find out what actually happened. I’m going to let you tell the story. It’s a good story. It began with an email from a TV production company who wanted to come and interview you and film you, I believe.
Ludmila Yamalova: Indeed. It’s not just a story about us, but there are a lot of lessons to learn from the story. There is definitely a very valuable moral of the story, and this is what we wanted to feature in this particular example and the timing of this is even more interesting because this is the second time around. In fact, we were approached in a very similar fashion by, from what we can decipher for now, the same crew last year. This is the second bite at the apple.
Tim Elliot: So, they’ve come back for another pop at the cherry, as it were.
Ludmila Yamalova: They haven’t come back the second time yet, and we are now guessing. Maybe they have connected the dots and realized that perhaps this is where things do not work the last time around.
Tim Elliot: Okay. The thing is, let me just put this into context. It’s not surprising that you are approached by media companies, TV, press, radio, whatever for legal comment because you regularly and still do regularly visit the Dubai Eye Talk Radio station here in Dubai, and you offer legal comment. You’re known for – I’m going to compliment you – intelligent, nuanced legal expertise, to be fair, so I guess when somebody comes to you and says, “Can we come to your office, film you, get some legal comment?”, it’s not natural that the alarm bells would go off because it’s reasonably normal.
Ludmila Yamalova: The alarm bells probably wouldn’t really go off in most other people’s minds because it’s very flattering when you get a call and someone says I want to come and interview you and feature you on TV and other radio and print material type of forums. It is very flattering. It feels really good, and it’s very exciting. I have, as you said, I have been approached over the years on a number of occasions, so this is not the first time around that I would have been doing this. But also because the request itself wasn’t as much of a surprise, but I have a bit of experience in terms of what goes into these interviews, experience and also expectations on both fronts, expectations from the producers themselves or the interviewer, and also the expectations in terms of what I want to deliver, what message I would want to deliver and in what form and perhaps the style in which this entire transaction takes place. In other words, I would like to give comments to those who have a certain reputation in the market because you don’t necessarily want to be sharing content and sharing in particular legal advice with someone who you don’t believe is a professional in the industry, so that’s where the expectations really exist on both fronts. Because of that, because of this experience, I perhaps ultimately could see through this particular scam more so and earlier than others. But now perhaps, let’s describe what really happened.
Tim Elliot: Let’ backtrack a bit. They call you or they email you, and they call, and they arrange, and they turn up with their cameras and their lights. Is that how it went?
Ludmila Yamalova: Yea. There was actually a little more fanfare about that. They first emailed. Then they called. They would call from different numbers, two different numbers, but he was perhaps creating the appearance of being quite well staffed and for having team behind it. There were a lot of calls from different numbers about let’s schedule the timing, let’s schedule the forum, let’s schedule the place, let’s schedule, here’s the script, and do you also want perhaps makeup? and so on and so forth. There was a lot that created this impression of this being a fairly large production.
But what struck me back then was a few things: One, was the inconsistency with these different numbers. You could call one person and then you would get a call back from a different number. That was one thing, but more importantly it was just perhaps the vagueness of the email and the script and in particular the reasoning as to why they chose me.
Tim Elliot: Right.
Ludmila Yamalova: Well, before I even say that, why they chose this particular email address. Perhaps this is what struck me the most, as you said before, I’ve given lots of interviews in the past, so those who do reach out for a comment or an interview reach out to me for a legal comment or interview or perhaps about my specific experience of forming a business and running a business in the U.A.E. They are very specific questions, either from the legal perspective or the perspective of a business owner or an entrepreneur, but they are fairly specific. Here it was just, we want to come and we want to interview the owner of your company or the manager of the company. We want to interview because we want to feature the successful entrepreneurs in the U.A.E. They are kind of big words, but they really mean nothing. They are certainly not at all particularized to the area of expertise that we provide and also the place where we sit in the business community. I picked up back then on this. Yes, we are a TV station. We want to feature successful entrepreneurs who have contributed to the U.A.E. business success, so we want to feature them. The message itself sounds very positive but at the end and throughout this process and especially with these different phone calls and emails coming from different accounts, it became obvious that they had no idea who I was and they had no idea that we were a law firm, and they had really, not just no idea, but it was they had perhaps no interest in really what we had to offer. Yet, they were very persistent.
Also, the name of the TV was in Arabic. By the way, that was another perhaps giveaway point. Their English was not very polished, and yet, the interview was going to be in English. That is always a bit of a concern. If you are giving an interview or taking an interview from someone that is in English, then you perhaps should have an interviewee or interviewer who has a decent command of the English language. That being said, perhaps that person had the day off and maybe that person would have come.
They arranged for this meeting and they said that this is some fairly popular TV station in Egypt. We have some Egyptian colleagues in the office and they looked up and said, yes, in fact, the particular TV station does exist and perhaps it tailors more to the older population of Egypt, the grandmother and grandfathers and their friends do watch this and enjoy the shows and confident that it is being broadcasted on that particular TV station. That is the level of detail that we received.
That being said, okay, it is a TV station and they will come, and they will film, and then some additional media coverage would not hurt us.
Tim Elliot: That wouldn’t hurt. I can understand that. There is a whiff, there is a slight whiff of legitimacy at this point still.
Ludmila Yamalova: Indeed, yes, because we did look it up. The station did really exist. They did talk about interviewing successful entrepreneurs and businesses. I’d like to consider us as one of those examples. Certain things definitely did fit. They were also very persistent and very eager. It wasn’t like, okay, we are not really sure whether they were coming or not. It seemed that perhaps there was a little suspicion, but you always want to see the better.
Tim Elliot: Alright. What happens next? They eventually turn up and they set up their cameras and their lights and whatever else they need to perform the interview at great length. What happens then when they’re ready to hit film.
Ludmila Yamalova: They pitch up to the office. I think there were five of them or so with their equipment and the big light and the video cameras and suitcases and such. They pitch up here and in particular in my office. They set up the big light, the shining light, and the video camera. There is somebody sitting across the desk from me with a script and the microphone and so on and so forth. Then we are starting to prepare and at that point there were about three or four of them in my office and my colleagues walked out for a second. It was in that moment there was a comment about, “You see we are a low budget TV station, so we are all young.” They said, “Okay, what we will do is we will record this and then we will play it on our TV station. We will also package it in terms of the radio sound bites and will promote you on social media. We will post the different sound bites and packages on different social media portals. It will be on Facebook. It will be on Twitter. It will be on LinkedIn.” There is this sort of marketing sale pitch that is coming my way in terms of what a great deal this is going to be. It’s not just about this video recording, but it will have such a bigger reach, a global reach out there about me and my business and my practice. Basically, in a way they were saying, we are here doing your marketing for you. We will do all of these things that go above and beyond just this one perhaps TV interview.
Tim Elliot: Okay. So, at this point you are thinking, yea, yea, yea, that’s what they all say. But that’s welcome because publicity is a good thing.
Ludmila Yamalova: Publicity is a good thing. This is why we’re having this interview. But I’m not a rookie in this department. This is not my first rodeo, so to speak. Therefore, I know that these interviews are done, in particular if they are initiated by the other side, that they are done, perhaps for lack of better phrasing, for legitimate reasons in terms of wanting to just take content and share it with their audience. That is the reason. In other words, no expectation of payment.
Tim Elliot: None.
Ludmila Yamalova: Because it was not me reaching out by pitching my services or my firm, and I didn’t offer money. Therefore, whenever they come this way, there has never been an expectation of money. That I knew since this was not my first rodeo.
Tim Elliot: Yea.
Ludmila Yamalova: After that sales and marketing pitch about beefing up and promoting my firm and my practice on all portals of social media, they said, “Okay, but you see, we are a young team and there is a small budget” and something about it would be a donation, we trust that you will consider making a donation to us for basically doing all this great work for you, promoting you.
Tim Elliot: A consideration, a donation, a fee of sorts. Did they mention a number?
Ludmila Yamalova: There was definitely the word “donation.”
Tim Elliot: Right.
Ludmila Yamalova: I think I might have asked. I’m not sure now if I’m just imagining this or they actually did say there it was 5,000 dirhams. They said, oh, it can be anything, 5,000. I think it was somewhere around that figure. It was also so much of a shock because, again, here they are in my office. We have reshuffled the entire office because it was not just a regular interview. This is a video interview, so we had to rearrange everything here, hide all the client files, and all the other sensitive information, clear furniture in order to accommodate all the heavy equipment. They set up here. We are going to prepare for this. Everybody dressed up in the firm. They also said that they were going to go around and film the rest of the office and take some bite size interviews of other employees at the firm just to feature us as this holistic business. So obviously, everybody dressed up and everybody was looking in top shape. Then, on top of that, they gave us the marketing spiel, this fairy tale of how much work they will do and how much they will promote and broadcast my practice to the rest of the world. It was in the midst of that, that the word “donation” came up. I stopped in my tracks at that time. I said, “Okay. That’s not how we do these interviews.” I said, “I am fairly experienced in this field and I’m happy to give an interview. I am happy to share content. I’m happy to share my advice. But I don’t pay for this. There is no expectation of payment.” I give interviews all the time, and there has never been an expectation of payment, and I don’t pay for this. So, no.
Tim Elliot: They set up at great length. I’m guessing they dismantled their equipment in haste.
Ludmila Yamalova: Exactly.
Tim Elliot: Right.
Ludmila Yamalova: Yes. That’s exactly it. At that point, and I have to tell you, event then when I said, “No, this is not how we do this. Thanks for the great pitch and what you can potentially do for me, but I don’t work on that basis.” And I just said, “I am on the right one for you.” This is not the right place for you to be conducting this interview. At that point, I have to tell you, I still did not believe that they were just going to walk away. I thought, okay, maybe this was just their attempt for these young guys to just get a little bit of money.
Tim Elliot: Sure.
Ludmila Yamalova: In addition to whatever it is that they normally get paid. But no, it was just as you said. When I said that, they said, “Are you sure? But we can do all this for you.” I said, “Listen, I do this all the time, so no.” You picked the wrong victim. Very quickly thereafter, within five minutes or so, they dismantled all their fairly large equipment, the lights and the video cameras and the tripods and the microphones and the big suitcases, and they waltzed in about five or so minutes.
Tim Elliot: So, you’re left . . . I’m getting to grips with this. I’ve worked in the media for a long time and it begs belief. I know it happens. I understand. But when you actually hear from somebody that this happens to, and it’s as brazen as that, once they left, who would you complain to?
Ludmila Yamalova: That is such a great question. This is why I really wanted to discuss this story and share it because there are so many lessons to learn. Because at the end, when they walked out, and you think, oh my goodness, this was a scam so we should report it. We are a law firm, don’t forget. This is what we do, due diligence is what we do for our clients. We thought, okay, how do we report and who do we report? All we have is the email address, and the email is just some nondescript, something, something. Normally we do have in our offices, you know we have fairly, perhaps for some, maybe perceivable tight security, but we have a lobby. Nobody passes through that lobby and it is closed doors until they check in and they put in their ID. We take copies of their IDs, and they log into our system, provide contact details and such. In fact, later on what I realized when they left, what happened, from the five of them, as I mentioned earlier, that came, one stayed behind and said, “Okay, we will sign in” and the rest went to set up. The one person apparently stayed behind to sign in, though at the end when we checked, nobody really signed in. Somebody stayed behind to create the appearance that they were signing in, and in fact, they didn’t sign in.
At the end, even us as a law firm, what we would normally do and this is one of the lessons that I recommend and that I certainly learned and took from this experience is that it does not matter who they are, but normally we ask for their license, show me a copy of your license. You were here representing a TV station. Okay, so obviously there will be a copy of your license, your employment cards, or some other official badges that you belong to a particular news agency, but we didn’t ask for any of that because they came and they looked all very important, so we didn’t ask. At the end, we didn’t have any documentation to really go after them. Again, not that we suffered. It was more of a wow, these scams actually exist, and they are pretty elaborate, and the audacity they had to come to a law firm. It is the audacity, but at the same ignorance because it was obvious that these guys, as perhaps as elaborate as they may seem, they were rookies and not professionals. They were quite young and inexperienced. They didn’t even realize that this is a law firm. They should have. If they had actually taken a little bit of time and looked up who I was, they would have seen that I have plenty of media experience and perhaps I would have seen through this. But it’s obvious they didn’t even do that level of due diligence, and therefore, you can imagine what they are doing to others. I’m a law firm who has been here for 12 years. I know this place. But imagine how many unaware businesses out there that they have approached in this same kind of setup. They would go through the whole fanfare of so-called taking these interviews, and I guarantee you now, in retrospect, I guarantee they don’t even put out the interviews. I don’t even think they do anything for these businesses.
Tim Elliot: It sounds certainly like they don’t, but I mean, I did a quick google search of you because I thought somebody must have done some research. I’ve known you for – how long have we known each other, Ludmila, eight, nine, 10 years perhaps? You were a regular guest on the radio show I used to do, so I’m very aware of your media profile, if you like. I googled you, and I found LinkedIn videos. I found links to the podcast that we do. I found old Dubai Eye interviews. It was immediately obvious with a cursory 10-second google search of Ludmila Yamalova that you’ve done a few media engagements in your time.
Ludmila Yamalova: Yes.
Tim Elliot: Let’s put it that way. They were kind of remiss on that part.
Ludmila Yamalova: Indeed.
Tim Elliot: But they’ve been back in touch.
Ludmila Yamalova: This is why we’re doing this today. Exactly. Yes. Just last week we received an uncannily similar, or a familiar email with, once again, a TV production that wanted to interview U.A.E. and Dubai’s successful entrepreneurs and wanted to get comments about their success in the U.A.E. and how they have contributed to the U.A.E. business success and how the U.A.E. has enabled them to succeed, and they sent a script, the script of the questions they will ask. It is the same script we received last year. Perhaps the names are a little different, but more or less the same practice of calls coming from random numbers, different numbers every time.
This time around, we thought, okay, let’s do it. Let’s organize it, but now with different kinds of expectations. In fact, we organized and set a date. This time we had a very different plan as to how we were going to check their identities and things we would do, a protocol we would follow, before we let them into the rest of the office. We had a date and time set and all that, except that this time we didn’t really expect to be interviewed, and they didn’t show up. Then we called and they called us from a different number and said, okay, let us check with our colleague.
Then even before, let me backtrack a little bit, when we called them and said,
“What do you know about us?”.
“You are an accounting firm, right?”
We’re like, “No. We are not an accounting firm. We are legal consultants.”
“Yes, yes, it’s the same. Yes, we knew you. It’s just that my colleague got confused.” There was always a lot of this, my colleague. They could do that because they kept calling us from different numbers.
Same thing this time around, so this time we asked them ahead of time.
“Hey, obviously you know who we are.”
They said, “Yes, yes, yes, we do.”
“So, who are we?”
“An accounting firm.”
“No. We are a legal consultancy firm.”
“Yes, yes, yes, I meant to say that.”
“Do you know anything about us?”
“Yes, of course. We will learn about you.”
“But what do you know about us?” “
We know you are very successful, you’re an entrepreneur in Dubai. You run a successful business.” All these platitudes and general statements that mean absolutely nothing.
That being said, we scheduled the visit and they never showed up. When we called back, they said, “Oh, very sorry. Let us call you back. I will get my colleague to call back.”
Hang on, hang on, they called us back and said, “Very, very sorry, very sorry. Something really terrible happened, a car accident. Our team could not come because they were stuck in a car accident.”
Tim Elliot: Okay. Do you think they just turned up at the building reception downstairs, which is an electronic barrier that you have to get a key card to go through, and one of them remembered that it was an issue?
Ludmila Yamalova: That’s my guess. That’s exactly what I guessed. I was so shocked that actually they were going to follow through with this because obviously last time it didn’t work for them. We are at the same place, same everything. We’re a law firm. It says so on our door. For them to have actually come back here it would just been pure idiocy, but obviously something triggered some kind of reminders for them. We haven’t really gone to the extent of checking if they actually even showed up in the lobby and then just turned away. They might have even showed up at the door and they recognized the look and feel of our office and then just turned away. That also could have happened. But they haven’t shown up, though they continue their discussion with us and told us that they will come and give us an offer on a different date. If they do come again, I guess there could be a part two to this.
Tim Elliot: I think there’s going to be a second part to this podcast. I have a feeling. So, what’s the moral of the story? That there really is fake news out there?
Ludmila Yamalova: Indeed. Yes, but the fake news costs money. Yes. The moral of the story is that this is a scam that obviously exists in this town. This is not the first time. It’s happened already, the attempt at this scam happened twice to just me, my firm here, so you can imagine how many other businesses have been caught up in the same fiasco. The moral of the story is the message sounds very appealing, very tempting, and very flattering, so must businesses I would imagine, especially those that have not had the media experience that I have had, would be very excited and very welcoming of this opportunity and be very flattered and therefore would not stop at actually making this donation. But more importantly, the way they handle all this, they hold a setup, they way they do the setup, obviously they are relying on the emotion and the psychological. Well, we have already gone through all this effort, so obviously you wouldn’t want us to pack up and leave. It is like they get people and put them against the wall and say, obviously, since we are doing all this great stuff for you and we are already set up, of course, you would make a donation.
Tim Elliot: While we’re here, while we’re here.
Ludmila Yamalova: Yes. That’s it. I would imagine a lot of businesses would not stop at that point in time and in fact would fall for it. I have yet to see any kind of results or any coverage of any social media coverage from these interviews about the businesses. But since then we have also gone and looked up the name of this so-called TV station or this production company and there is a thing even in the Facebook that says it is definitely a scam and that businesses have been caught up in the same scam and that in fact afterwards, even after the payment, there would not be any kind of result.
Tim Elliot: Right. It’s a TV scam to be aware of. That’s another edition of Lawgical, in this instance, Lite. Part two, I think, is going to be coming soon. Watch this space. As ever, our legal expert here on Lawgical Lite today was Ludmila Yamalova, the Managing Partner here at Yamalova & Plewka. Always great chatting with you. Thanks again.
Ludmila Yamalova: Always delightful. Thank you, Tim.
Tim Elliot: We’ll check back in if they do ever come back to interview you, Ludmila. If you have a legal question you need answered in a future episode of Lawgical, or Lawgical Lite, if you’d like a consultation with a qualified legal professional with U.A.E. experience, all you have to do is click Contact at LYLawyers.com. You can also WhatsApp us. 00971 52 525 1611.