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Beware of online matchmaking fraud in the time of Covid, advise UAE experts

E-matchmaking activities are "very risky" because one often doesn’t have a way to verify the information.

In the middle of a pandemic, which convinced people that home is the safest place to be in, could it be possible to find love and actually ‘meet’ someone to marry? Really, how do you find The One in the time of Covid-19? Matchmakers claim to have the answer.

Compared to pre-coronavirus era, there has been a spike in the online activity of matchmakers this year, according to the authorities. The problem is — not all of them are genuine.

The police have recorded several incidents of fraud and blackmail — targeting both men and women of marrying age, looking for a partner to spend the rest of their lives with. The increase in cases and complaints about such scams have prompted the police in Dubai and Sharjah to issue warning advisories, urging the public to be extra careful in availing of online matchmaking services. Make sure an entity is licensed before starting any transaction, the police stressed.

Dr Raja Al Othmani of the Family Advisory said these electronic matchmaking activities are “very risky”, primarily because one often doesn’t have a way to verify the information about a certain “match” or a person seeking marriage.

She lamented how the concept of matchmaking has changed over the years, with the advent of smart technologies. In the old days, community members personally know who the best matchmakers are, Dr Al Othmani said. Matchmakers earn a reputation for making successful marriages happen. Now, as the business goes online, people could actually make transactions with a matchmaker they have never met.

This, the experts said, makes the trend dangerous. And this is also why a lot of people in the UAE fall victim to fraud.

Crackdown on scams

The police have been combing through social media in a crackdown on fake matchmakers, following complaints from scam victims. Many fraudsters claim that they can “bring a couple together for legal marriage”, so they ask for large sums of money and gather a great deal of personal data: From several pictures to age, career information, academic achievements, family background and more. In many cases, all these information are collected without any guarantee that they won’t be used for blackmailing or any other crime.

A top official of the anti-cybercrime department of the Sharjah Police said they have found several Twitter and Instagram accounts that offer such matchmaking services in the UAE.

“Unfortunately, these accounts enjoy a wide following. The number of followers of each ‘matchmaker’ ranges from 40,000 to 80,000. What raises alarm is that there is a clear interaction in the comments section, where people send personal information of those wishing to get married. Here, protection of one’s privacy becomes a concern,” he said.

Khaleej Times has tried to get in touch with a number of owners of these social media accounts, but they refused to disclose any information about their activities. Two account owners, however, confirmed that they are running matchmaking services online for the purpose of business.

A matchmaker’s work: ‘This is a profession I learnt from my grandmother’

Matchmaker ‘Umm Hamood’ confirmed that she has been in the industry for more than 26 years now. Bringing a couple together is a ‘profession’ she learnt from her grandmother, who used to join her in weddings and engagement parties.

“My grandmother made me love this profession since childhood. It all started when I managed to arrange the marriage of the daughters of my neighbours and relatives. From there, my matchmaking activity grew until I formed my on licensed company called ‘Halal Marriage Seekers’,” she said.

Umm Hamood explained she would communicated with prospective grooms by phone and get to know his idea of a wife. “I would also visit houses, including those of unmarried girls, in order to find the perfect match for a marriage.”

She wasn’t used to doing it all online, she said. But then she was eventually compelled to use the social media as it became a instant way to community with customers. Besides, there has also been a rise in the use of digital communication tools.

How much does it cost

Explaining her service fees, she said: “I have set an amount of Dh5,000 for those seeking marriage, both male and female. This includes linking a prospective couple, getting them to initiate a conversation, and opening a file which provides them with personal data, such as name, age, job, place of residence.”

“All information will be kept confidential,” she stressed.

Then, once a marriage contract is signed, Dh15,000 shall be paid by the applicant.

Many men, she said, intent to marry women with a high level of education and within the age of 30 to 43. Some also prefer secret marriages, which means families are not supposed to know. All these preferences are taken into consideration in offering the service, she said.