The circulation of false messages through popular smartphone applications like whatsapp and Viber is on the rise in Oman. Non-existent jobs, properties and business deals are being advertised through free messaging services, much to the agony of unsuspecting victims, who include those wrongly quoted as 'contacts' in the ads.
Fahd Hamoud, a government employee, recently received one such fake message offering a used wheelchair for free. “I was interested as I happened to be looking for one for someone in my family. Surprisingly, my polite call for enquiry was met with an angry response. The person on the other side said that did not know anything about the wheelchair and that I would have been the 20th person to call him enquiring about it.
“It was understood that he wasn’t angry with me, but at the person who put his number on the false advertisement. I apologised for the call.”
When contacted, the person whose number was put as a contact said that the culprit who started the chain of the false message should pay the price. “I will make sure that I find the person who posted this message. I will take it up with the Public Prosecution and hopefully they will get him,” he said. Talal al Musallami, a car enthusiast, too was misled by a false message, this one advertising a Toyota Prado 2011 model on sale for just RO5,000.
“Seeing this as a good deal as the actual price of the model is over RO10,000, I called on the number mentioned in the message.” Musallami reached a person who had no clue about the advertisement. “Someone had written the message as a joke and had passed on the number to pull someone's leg,” he said.
Salaah al Qasmi, a government employee, is another victim of false messages. Job seekers from around Oman called him after a message made the rounds claiming that he was offering jobs in a particular company. “I had to switch off my phone for three weeks to avoid such calls. When I told them about the reality, some got angry while others thought I didn’t want to give them the job.”
Qasmi added that he has not reported the case to Public Prosecution as he feels it is a long procedure.
With the advent of smartphones, it has become easier not just to access websites which may have fake information, but also to spread the message by just posting its link.
“Last week, I received a message about a farm house in Barka to be let out for a short period for just RO70. The message had a link of Sablat Oman’s website where the photos of an attractive farm house were posted. When I called the number asking for 'Mohammed' mentioned in the advertisement, a woman who had no idea about the house answered the call,” said Omar Abdullah, a student.
A Public Prosecution official has urged people getting such messages to report to its cyber crime department in Al Khoudh. “The department will collect evidence, investigate the case and then bring the culprits to justice,” the official said.