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How ‘a friend from Nigeria’ sold American tourist to extortioners in Dubai

A Texas woman, who is now prohibited from leaving the United Arab Emirates after a man filed a legal case against her for “screaming,” may actually be the victim of an elaborate scam.

Tierra Allen, 29, was riding in a rental car as a passenger in Dubai on April 28 when the driver, a friend from Nigeria, got into a “minor fender bender,” Allen’s mother, Tina Baxter, told Insider.

Allen told her mother that she was briefly handcuffed when local police arrived at the scene. The car, meanwhile, was towed back to the rental car company with her personal belongings — including her phone, wallet, and passport — still inside. She was then released, and police told her to go to the car company for her belongings.

When she went to the rental company — the name of which the US consulate in Dubai advised the family not to publicize — to get her stuff, its staff demanded thousands of dollars in return. An argument followed, and Allen says the staffers goaded her into yelling.

An employee at the rental car company reported Allen to police for violating a broadly-defined law in the UAE that criminalizes things like swearing, rudeness, and insulting gestures.

“She didn’t get arrested for the accident. She got arrested for going to the rental car company, asking for her items that were left in the car when they opened the case,” Baxter told Insider. “She became the main target when they realized she was a US citizen.”

When she went to the rental company to get her stuff, its staff demanded thousands of dollars in return

Radha Stirling, a UK-based human rights advocate who runs an organization called Detained in Dubai that gives legal assistance to foreigners in the UAE, told Insider that Allen’s story is something she’s seen before, multiple times.

“I just had three Americans in the past couple of months who said they were in pretty much the same situation,” Stirling told Insider. “They ended up paying $20,000 that they didn’t owe to a rental car company just to get their passports back so they could go home.”

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Stirling, who is helping Allen, said that she has right now only been charged. As a result, she can’t leave the country. Even if she was allowed, she doesn’t have her passport, which Stirling believes is now in police custody. She is otherwise mostly holed up in her Airbnb using a replacement phone to talk to her mother and Stirling.

“If the police choose to prosecute, that can take in itself four months, six months, maybe even longer, just until she gets a court date,” Stirling said. “In a worst-case scenario, if she was prosecuted and convicted, she could be looking at up to two years in prison.”

The rental company involved in the case did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

three Americans said they were in pretty much the same situation. They ended up paying $20,000 that they didn’t owe to a rental car company just to get their passports back 

Allen has gone to the police and returned to the rental agency multiple times to try and resolve the ordeal, even offering to pay some of the money demanded by the rental company. When she did that, however, employees only increased the amount, Stirling said. There were also fraudulent charges made on the credit cards Allen had left in the car, according to bank screenshots seen by Insider.

“I am definitely not doing well. It’s been very rough,” Baxter, who also lives in the Houston area, told Insider. “I’m trying to stay strong for her.”

Baxter said she was working to help her daughter but was conscious that she could make things worse as she raises awareness of her daughter’s case. She said she was being careful not to say anything that might offend the UAE government or the authorities in Dubai.

“People just think she’s just some screaming monster when she’s a very soft-spoken young lady,” Baxter said of her daughter. “She was only pushed to the edge to respond back after she was afraid and being extorted for money and misled.”

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Baxter debated starting a fundraiser on GoFundMe, but Stirling said it could backfire.

“In a sense, doing that perpetuates this common issue, perpetuates the extortion scam that is so prevalent in the UAE,” Stirling said.

this common issue, the extortion scam, is so prevalent in the UAE

Instead, the family has contacted lawmakers in Allen’s home state of Texas for help, including Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and Sen. Ted Cruz.

“We’re hoping that that’s going to transition into ambassadorial help and diplomatic assistance in the UAE and that she should be home soon,” Stirling told Insider.

The US Consulate in Dubai told Insider it does not comment on consular cases. In a statement, Cruz’s office said it had made inquiries about Allen’s situation.

“We have spoken to the family of Tierra Young Allen and have contacted the Department of State about the case,” a spokesperson from the senator’s office told Insider. “Sen. Cruz will continue to gather details and engage on this case until Ms. Allen is returned home to her family.”

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