Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- Saudi families are increasingly falling victim of an elaborate scheme by Iraqis living in Jordan and Syria who claim to provide them with information about the fate of their relatives in Iraq and defraud them vast sums of money, with official sources in the Kingdom estimating the amount of money obtained from the scam to be in excess of 15 million$ US a year.
The brother of a suspected Islamic militant whose name appears on the list of 36 most wanted terrorists admitted being deceived by a group of Iraqis who frequently visited Syria. Speaking exclusively to Asharq al Awsat, on condition of anonymity, he revealed how he received a phone call two weeks after his brother went missing, alleging he had joined the insurgency in Iraq. Ten days later, the callers arranged a meeting in Syria. The brother informed the Saudi society services of the call. They said the terrorist was likely to be in hiding inside the Kingdom but did not object to the meeting as long as they would be kept informed of its conclusions.
After repeatedly changing the time and location, three men finally met the Saudi man in Syria. He trusted the men after they provided details on his brother”s physical appearance. Refusing to give them money outright, he asked the men to deliver a message to his brother assuring him funds would be made available for his return home. The Iraqis asked to be given time to deliver the message and ended the meeting.
A week later, the men got in touch again and indicated the brother was considering leaving Iraq for Saudi Arabia. In a later phone call, the men alleged the brother had made his final decision but needed 10,000 USD for the journey. The brother refused to pay this considerable amount and settled for 2000, in exchange for facilitating his brother’s trip to Syria and later Saudi Arabia.
In fact, the suspected militant had never left his home country. His brother later found out he was still in Saudi Arabia and was surprised how the scammer had obtained detailed information on him.
Others concerned family members who feared their sons and brothers had joined the Iraqi insurgency have also paid considerable sums of money to those claiming they would convince their loved ones to return home. The brother of the suspect mentioned above told Asharq al Awsat that the Iraqis showed him currency from countries around the Persian Gulf as evidence of payment.
One of the Iraqi men even offered to kidnap the brother and return him to his brother in exchange for additional money but the offer was refused.
In an attempt to tackle this prevalent scam, Saudi security officials have compiled a database of all the families contacted by Iraqis fraudsters demanding large sums of money seemingly in return for tracking their family members and returning them to Saudi Arabia.
Investigations have revealed that in most cases, the imposters pressure the family to send money after making repeated calls and claiming the missing member wanted to return but was unable to afford the journey or had been arrested and money was needed to bribe officials to free him. A third scenario alleged the son or brother had been kidnapped by an armed group and a ransom had to be paid to free him. Security officials believe these operations were planned and executed by professional criminal gangs linked to terrorist groups in Iraq and Saudi Arabia to fund their activities.