Tuma ile pesa kwa hii number
“Tuma ile pesa kwa hii number. Ile yangu iko na shida. (Send the money to this number. My number has a problem).” This is a very popular con line in Kenya. The con line has been attributed to the prison birds of Kamiti Maximum Prison. If you are a regular MPesa user, you will receive plenty of these messages. Your chances increase with your usage of MPesa especially to make transactions – these guys must be seers as they behave as if they can really see your MPesa transaction history and even planned transactions.
The year was 2016. Mbugua had been supplying our office with laptops for a while and even offered support whenever we experienced technical hitches with our gadgets. Since we had grown to build trust, I asked him to bring me a personal laptop that I would pay for in installments. I gave him the first installment and asked him to collect some 10k in a few days’ time.
When the day arrived, I texted Mbugua to tell him that his payment would be ready in the afternoon since I had not gotten a chance to visit the bank yet. That was 10.30. At 11.30 I received a text saying: “Ile pesa yangu niwekee kwa hii number.” I had heard different versions of the same SMS. So I ignored it. At 12 noon I use my lunch break to visit the bank and prepare Mbugua’s payment of 10,000 KES. But Mbugua had not arrived in the office yet. He was late. I tried calling his number, and it was disconnecting me. I tried again, and again, and again. It was not going through. So I started questioning myself: “What if he sent that message? What if he is in trouble and really wants me to send the money through MPesa?”
I decided to call the other number but it also wasn’t going through. I tried again and again without success. Finally, after much discernment, I thought: “Mbugua has not come, his number is not going through, and I got this message exactly the time he was supposed to collect his money, after I told him to give me time to prepare his payment. Even his number isn’t going through. He surely must be in trouble, I must send the money to the other number straight away!” Went downstairs, put the money in MPesa, and pressed send.
After a short while, I called Mbugua and the call miraculously went through. I asked if he had received the money and he was shocked I sent it to another person yet he had promised to come and pick it. I hang up and frantically started calling Safaricom customer service. They did not pick. Sent a message on Facebook. They had always resolved my Facebook issues in less than 5 minutes but this one took 2 hours to get any response. We even tried calling the postpaid number but still, it did not go through. When they finally spoke to me, they advised me to report the matter to the police as the recipient had withdrawn the money immediately it hit his account. I wondered why they could not trace the person through the agent as it would have been possible to even capture him on CCTV cameras, and there was a high possibility that he was a regular at that shop. Anyway, I could not argue over the phone with people who did not have the capacity to help me recover my laptop installment.
After work, I went to the Parklands police station to report the fraud. The officers there showed me the book they had recorded MPesa fraud cases. One person had just left the station after losing over 60,000/- to a fraudster. After much discussion, it was clear that even the police could not help me.
I went home convinced that somebody at Safaricom was involved in this fraud. The way it was engineered, the way the conman’s SMS came as a response to mine, the way the lines were jammed until I send the money, the way my Facebook message took long to be attended to … everything was evidence for foul play…
This is not the only MPesa fraud in Kenya. Cons can steal money from your mobile wallet using various tricks. The most prominent one in the history of MPesa fraud involved several Safaricom staff members who were involved in SIM Swap. This technique involved the remote swapping the SIM card of a potentially loaded but unsuspecting MPesa subscriber. They would ask for your ID number and/or other personal details that enabled them to swap your SIM card. They even asked their victims to use a different number while resolving the issue with their lines, so that by the time the probing was over, the victim would have no control whatsoever over their SIM card or MPesa account.
One of the measures people used to escape the SIM swap fraudsters was by mastering the official Safaricom number, 0722000000. However, criminals keep devising new ways to steal. This is their profession so they must keep innovating to do it without fail. They started engaging in ID spoofing such that when they called, targets would genuinely think the caller is a Safaricom customer care agent. So it has become extremely hard to secure mobile money accounts in Kenya.
Fake accident stories
You have also heard about the fake accident stories. A fraudster calls you saying your child, named so and so has been involved in a grisly road accident and was rushed to the hospital. You must send some money for the child to be admitted, and so you do only to realize that you were scammed when you call the school or your child shows up at home healthy and sound.
How to protect yourself
I am very discerning and never thought I could be conned, but I was. It is very easy to fall into the traps of these fraudsters. My advice would be;
- Do not send money at all to a strange number ever unless they ask you to do it on their own number; even if somebody is dying.
- Do not give your PIN, ID number, or any other personal details to anyone.
- Do not keep huge amounts of money on your mobile wallet.
- Beware of suspicious callers and callers using strange numbers.