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Scammers target Kenyan parents with children in academies

Friday December 01 2017
DnPhone1003r

Fraudsters on the loose are using mobile-telephony technology to swindle parents out of their hard-earned cash. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By CAROLINE WAMBUI

You may have received a phone call or SMS congratulating you on winning an award in a competition you never entered.

Or maybe you probably have received a phone call from a person who claims to have erroneously sent you money by mistake and wants it back.

TECH

Such messages may have prompted you into replying without knowing that scammers were after your money and personal data.

You are not alone.

Swindlers have gone high-tech and, like hunters chasing birds that are not perching, they are increasingly devising ways of shooting without missing.

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Leveraging on mobile-telephony and computer technologies— including social media— fraudsters have got slicker and smarter in their nefarious schemes.

They work in cartels that are well-organised and educated.

And they are reaping big where they never sow— swindling gullible and unsuspecting Kenyans out of their hard-earned cash as mobile service providers and police watch.

These fraudsters are not targeting any Tom, Dick and Harry. They choose their targets very carefully. They got taste.

TARGETS

Take the case of George Munene*, a corporate manager in Meru, for instance.

One early morning, as he went about his business in October, he received a call from a ‘Good Samaritan’ who claimed to have found his son in a critical condition.

The minor, the ‘Good Samaritan’ said, had suffered “serious’ injuries” while playing in school and he had taken it upon himself to save his life.

“The boy has multiple fractures on the arm, has his scull hurt. We are at Chogoria Mission Hospital awaiting the doctors word though we have managed to arrest the situation by giving First Aid,” Munene recalls the caller saying.

“Meanwhile you can be sending some Sh7,000 to cater for the ambulance.”

Amidst confusion, and as Munene delegated his duties to his juniors, another call came  in announcing that doctors had recommended a referral to Gertrude's Children's Hospital in Nairobi.

SH40,000

This time, the ‘Good Samaritan’ asked Munene to send some Sh40,000 so that they could rush the patient to the city.

Luckily for them, Munene sent the cash and decided to follow them to the capital.

Restless, he called the ‘Good Samaritan’ at intervals to know how far they had reached.

It was not until he got to Mwea that he questioned their speed as he was not catching up with the ambulance despite the caller assuring him that they were within reach.

He also questioned why the ‘Good Samaritan’ was still asking for more cash to cater for invented, imaginary expenses.

When reason reasserted itself and Munene called the school administration, he was shocked to learn that his son was safe and sound.

M-PESA

He also realised that he was Sh47,000 poorer and reported the matter to Nkubu Police Station.

Preliminary investigations revealed that all that time, the fraudster was calling from the comfort of a Meru hotel and used Munene’s cash to shop at a local supermarket.

The cartel also used the loot to fuel their cars, with all the transactions being paid for via M-Pesa.

Munene attempted to recover the cash with the help of Safaricom but only managed to get back Sh20,000.

For William Mugendi*, a businessman, an unknown man called him by name in late September and claimed to have rushed the trader’s son to Consolata Mission Hospital, Nkubu, with minor injuries.

Upon getting to the hospital, the caller said, the case worsened as the child could not speak.

VIOLENCE

In utter confusion, Mugendi opted to send the money but realized that he had less than Sh1,000 in his M-Pesa account.

As he sourced for funds, the swindlers kept on sending him exaggerated messages on how critical the case was getting.

After trying in vain to source for some cash from friends, Mugendi decided to take a motorcycle to the hospital.

But on informing the swindlers that he was leaving for the hospital, they turned violent and started insulting him.

Kwani wewe ni mjinga aje badala ya utume pesa kwanza mtoto atibiwe ni kuja unakuja, kwani unakuja kuona maiti,” (How foolish are you? Instead of first sending money for treatment, you are planning to come, are you planning to come see the corpse?”

When it became apparent that Mugendi was not sending any money, their lines went off,  only for him to confirm that the child was in fact safe in school.

POLICE

These, among other cases, have prompted school managers to devise ways of protecting parents from thieves on the loose.

At Winners Academy in Nkubu, Meru, Jane Ndegwa, the school director, says they have informed parents about the fraud.

“We always talk to the parent during our annual meetings… We also urge the parents and guardians to be confirming with us (the administration) in case such an issue arises,” she says.

Nkubu police chief John Cheruiyot confirms the existence of such cases in the region, with conmen targeting academies, where the rich take their children.

He advises Kenyans to first confirm messages on their children’s safety with school managers before taking action.

“To the criminals your days are numbered as we have identified your mode of operation which includes the contact numbers you use, change and dump and the vehicles.” 

*Names have been changed for privacy, safety and security reasons.

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