- A woman from Texas cannot leave the UAE after being accused of violating a vague law of ‘offensive behaviour’.
- Staff at a rental car company reported Tierra Allen, 29, to authorities after an argument.
- The car rental company was demanding large sums of money to return her passport and phone – a known scam.
A Texas woman, who is now banned from leaving the United Arab Emirates after a man filed a lawsuit against her for “screaming,” may 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, went into a “mini fender bender,” Allen’s mother, Tina Baxter, told Insider.
Allen told her mother that she was briefly restrained when local police arrived on the scene. Meanwhile the car 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 the police told her to go to the car company for her belongings.
When she went to the rental company — which the US consulate in Dubai advised the family not to publicize — to get her things, her team demanded thousands of dollars in compensation. An argument followed, and Allen said that the team had goaded her in yelling.
Then an employee of the car rental company opened a case against Allen for violating a broadly defined law in the UAE that criminalizes things like swearing, rudeness, and offensive gestures.
“She wasn’t arrested for the accident. She was arrested for going to the rental car company, asking for her belongings that were left in the car when they opened the case,” Baxter told Insider. “She became a prime target when they realized she was a US citizen.”
Radha Stirling, a UK-based human rights lawyer who runs an organization called Detained in Dubai that provides legal aid to foreigners in the UAE, told Insider that Allen’s story is something she has seen before, many times.
“I’ve only had three Americans in the last few months who said they were in pretty much the same situation,” Stirling told Insider. “They managed to pay $20,000 they didn’t owe to a rental car company just to get their passports back so they could go home.”
Stirling, who is helping Allen, said she has only been charged at this time. As a result, she cannot leave the country. Even if she was allowed, she doesn’t have her passport, which Stirling believes is now in police custody. Otherwise she is in most of the Airbnb using a replacement phone to talk to her mother and Stirling.
“If the police choose to prosecute, that can take four months, six months in itself, maybe even longer, just until she gets a court date,” Stirling said. “In the 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.
Allen went to the police and returned to the rental agency several times to try to resolve the problem, even offering to pay some of the money the rental company demanded. When she did, however, employees only increased the volume, Stirling said. Fraudulent charges were also made to the credit cards Allen left in the car, according to bank screenshots seen by Insider.
“I’m definitely not doing well. It’s 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 knew she could make things worse as she raises awareness of her daughter’s situation. She said she was careful not to say anything that might upset the UAE government or the authorities in Dubai.
“People think she’s just a screaming monster when she’s a very soft young woman,” Baxter said of her daughter. “She was not pushed to the edge but responded back after being scared and being ripped off for money and wasted.”
Baxter discussed starting a fundraiser on GoFundMe, but Stirling said he might back off.
“In a sense, if this common issue is perpetuated, it will perpetuate the extortion scam that is so common in the UAE,” Stirling said.
Instead, there is the family contact legislators in Allen’s home state of Texas for help, including Representative Sheila Jackson Lee and Senator Ted Cruz.
“We hope that will translate into ambassadorial assistance and diplomatic assistance in the UAE and she will be home soon,” Stirling told Insider.
The US Consulate in Dubai told Insider that it does not comment on consular cases. In a statement, Cruz’s office said it had made inquiries about Allen’s case.
“We have spoken with Tierra Young Allen’s family and contacted the State Department about the situation,” a spokesperson from the Senator’s office told Insider. “Sen. Cruz will continue to gather information and pursue this case until Ms. Allen is sent home to her family.”