Death just a click away as criminals swarm online sites

Saturday March 19 2016

Jackson Cheboi of the Cybercrime Investigation Unit cautions about websites, saying a simple change in the website’s URL directs people to a different site. ILLUSTRATION | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Jackson Cheboi of the Cybercrime Investigation Unit cautions about websites, saying a simple change in the website’s URL directs people to a different site. ILLUSTRATION | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By STELLA CHERONO
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The first time Mr Alex Mariera tried to sell a car on an online site was the last time he was seen alive.

The 28-year-old civil engineer was killed last month by people who police say were disguised as buyers after he advertised the vehicle on OLX, a popular online marketplace.

Police in Nakuru believe that his killers were not interested in the vehicle but in the life of the young man, who worked for the County Government of Kirinyaga.

His body, which had a bullet wound in the head, was found in the boot of the car he was to sell, two days after he left his father’s Nakuru home for a road test with his would-be “clients”.

His father, Mr Francis Misonge, said: “My son travelled from Kirinyaga to Nakuru on Wednesday, February 11, to collect the logbook. He said the buyers were to pay him Sh950,000.”

On Thursday afternoon, Mr Mariera called his father and told him he was in the company of the “buyers”.

But later that day he could not be reached on his phone. His body was found the following day.

Mr Mariera’s killing highlighted the growing threat of cybercrime and the need to take caution while trading on online marketplaces.

Many people have lost millions of shillings to fraudsters who daily prowl the Internet.

Two weeks ago, Mr Paul Anyona was selling a television set and DVD player, which he posted online.

“Somebody called me and came to view them in my house,” Mr Anyona recalled. “He asked me if he could use my phone to call his wife so as to confirm if she liked the items.

“He stayed with it for a while,” said Mr Anyona. “I had to ask him to give it back, and he said his wife’s phone was off and so he had sent her a text.”

They then agreed on Sh75,000 for the items and the buyer said he would pick them at 7am the following day.

“At 6am, he called to say he could not come because he was running late and would send his driver,” said Mr Anyona. “Moments later, a taxi showed up and he called me to confirm its arrival.

“I then immediately received what I thought was an M-Pesa SMS confirming payment and I released the goods to the taxi driver.

“But as I entered the gate, I scrolled down on the phone only to find out that the message I had received was not from Safaricom as I had initially thought but someone saved in my phonebook as ‘MPESA’.”

VICTIMS
Mr Anyona pursued the taxi in his car and blocked it. When police arrived and arrested the taxi driver, he said he did not know the man who had sent him and that he was to deliver the goods to him at the Burma Market gate.

“I then realised that he had saved a number on my phone as ‘MPESA’ the day he was in my house,” said Mr Anyona.

And then, there have been the near-misses. As was the case when Ms Emma Njau advertised her car on an online marketplace three weeks ago.

“A man called and said he was very interested,” Ms Njau recalled. “He wanted to see the car, and we agreed to meet at Sarit Centre. I told him I wanted a public place because I have always been warned about meeting strangers in private places.

“When I said that, he changed his tone and sounded confused. He mumbled something, then told me that he would come at the time we had agreed.”

At the meeting, he told her he would pay by bank transfer but after she sent him the logbook details on WhatsApp he went silent for two days.

“When I called him, he asked for my PIN and ID number,” said Ms Njau. “I refused to give him the particulars since I had become suspicious.

He later asked to meet her in Embakasi. She drove to the agreed place in the company of a male friend but the man had switched off his phone.

Ms Joyce Biomdo, on the other hand, was lured into buying a stolen phone online. Her case is ongoing at the Makadara law courts.

Mr Jackson Cheboi of the Cybercrime Investigation Unit says criminals range from those who disguise themselves as buyers or sellers to snoop on your house for a later robbery to those who use the information on your bank card to steal from your bank account.

“You should also not give details of your bank documents,” said Mr Cheboi. “If someone claims to have sent money to your phone, make sure you confirm that the transaction was actually made and was not reversed.”

He cautions about websites, saying a simple change in the website’s URL directs people to a different site.