Mobile money fraud hits rural Kenya residents hard
Mobile money has made lives easier for most people in Africa, but this has not come cheap for the users with con tricksters forever devising means and ways of stealing the money. In Kenya, for example, con men are applying tricks that are more advanced than service providers and users.
Having a mobile phone in Kenya seems to have become the easiest way citizens are being exposed to crime as fraudsters devise new ways to steal from subscribers.
The criminals are coming up with the schemes nearly every day, staying ahead of subscribers, the sector's regulator and mobile phone service providers.
Kenya's mobile phone subscribers stand at about 38 million, out of a population of close to 41 million people, with the number rising every quarter, according to the latest data from the Communication Authority of Kenya.
Similarly, mobile money subscribers stood at 29 million in the period ending September last year, with the users moving US$23 billion during the period.
The surge in mobile money use and mobile phone subscribers has whetted the appetite of criminals who are running the schemes undetected.
The worst affected are Kenyans living in rural areas, who are unaware of the schemes and trust easily, therefore, are gullible.
“Pliz nitumie hiyo pesa kwa hii namba. Ile ingine Mpesa pin imeblock (Please send me the money on this number, for the other one my mobile money PIN has been blocked),” Collins Ombiro, a resident of Busia, recounted Tuesday he received the message a week ago.
The boda boda rider said upon receiving the message, he believed it was genuine because he was supposed to send a loan to a group member for his son's school fees.
“I am the Treasurer of our group. Whenever members apply for loans, I disburse the money mostly through mobile money because it is easier. This member was expecting from me about 40 dollars that he had borrowed,” he said.
When he saw the message, Ombiro thought it was from the loanee and he even called to confirm if he should send the money to the number.
“A man received the call and talking while shouting as if he was in a noisy place to hide his voice confirmed that I should send the money to the number. He said his phone had developed problems and he was using a handset belonging to a mobile money shop operator. There is no reason I could not believe,” he said.
Upon sending the money, he received a confirmation message, and having been told that the member was using a borrowed phone, it did not click to him that he had been conned.
Few hours later, the member called asking why he had not sent the money. It dawned on him that he had been conned.
“I now have to repay the money because that was my mistake. The group members cannot understand,” he said on the phone.
Another con scheme involves the fraudsters posing as leading telecoms customer care agents. They then ask questions to verify the owner of the line. The questions start with one's ID number followed by several others that include mobile money account password.
Those con men are swift and must be masters of psychology. They know the kind of questions one would ask and they are prepared with answers. I lost US$20 dollars after revealing my password,” said Sylvia Boke, a nursery school teacher who lives in Migori.
Kenya ordered all SIM cards registered about three years ago in bid to tame fraud, but the exercise seems to have borne little fruit.
The CA on Tuesday said it is working on fresh rules that will cap individual subscribers to owning a maximum of 10 active SIM cards to curb mobile phone crimes.
“We want to outlaw the sale of more than 10 SIM cards to an individual because one person cannot use those many lines,” the CA director-general Francis Wangusi, said.
He said failure to limit the number of SIM cards has made it easier for individuals to buy and use them for fraud.
“The rural folk are prone to mobile phone fraud because of lack of awareness on this form of crime. They will, therefore, trust easily and the fact that they are some of the biggest beneficiaries of mobile money remittances wired by their kin from towns makes them a target of criminals,” said Bernard Mwaso of Edell IT solutions in Nairobi.