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Kenyans cautious as mobile phone fraud soars

NAIROBI, (Xinhua) -- Kenyans have become cautious as they transact cash on mobile phones following increase in fraud.

The fraudsters are threatening the fast-growing industry by devising new schemes through which they are defrauding the public millions of U.S. dollars.

The latest scheme involves Sim card swapping, through which the criminals call a subscriber pretending they are an employee of one of the leading telecoms.

They would then ask details that include Simcard password, nation identification number and name.

Using these details, they then replace the Simcard of the victims and use the new one to wipe money from the mobile and bank accounts.

Some subscribers have lost millions in the latest fraud that has rocked the sector and shows how the crime is morphing.

One person lost 20,000 dollars in a matter of hours after his SIM card was swapped by the fraudsters and the new ones used to commit the crime.

The money was wiped out from his two bank accounts, with police currently investigating the matter. For others, the fraudsters have taken loans from mobile credit firms in the victims’ names, leaving a trail of agony.

The cases have sent a chill in the spine of the close to the 30 million mobile money subscribers across the East African nation.

“I had linked mobile money account to my bank account but I went to my bank last week and withdrew from the service to protect my money following increased fraud,” Amos Muindi, a businessman in Nairobi, said Tuesday.

Muindi noted that some of victims are having their Sim cards replaced without even receiving any call from the fraudsters.

“The crime is complex. A friend woke up in the morning and found his SIM card blocked. After checking with the service provider, he found it had been replaced. The fraudsters then withdrew 1,500 dollars from his bank account and took a loan in his name which he is now repaying,” he said.

But this is not the only form of fraud targeting the East African nation’s residents.

In another schemes, the fraudsters are randomly ‘flashing’ people using international phone numbers.

Flashing is a term used in Kenya to mean someone calling a number and disconnecting before the person picks. Once one finds the missed call, when they call back, all their airtime is whipped out.

“I found a missed call from an international number and thought it was my sister studying in India who had called. I called back and all my 5 dollars airtime was wiped out in a second,” said journalist Ahmed Mohammed.

Mobile phone fraud is taking root in the East African nation because of three things, according to Bernard Mwaso, a consultant with Edell IT Solutions in Nairobi.

First it is the huge volumes of cash moved through mobile phones. Last year, Kenyans transacted 36 million dollars on mobile phone, according to the Communication Authority.

Second is the low awareness on fraud among the people using the service, with the number of subscribers standing at 30 million.

And lastly, the linking of mobile money tobank accounts for convenience has made fraudsters devices new schemes to target subscribers knowing they can steal more.

Linked to the fraud as employees of the telecoms offering the service, with police arresting one last week.

Mwaso noted the fact that telecom employees are involved makes the crimes harder to fight. Last week police arrested an employee of leading telecom Safaricom over the fraud.

The Communication Authority last week issued an alert on SIM card swapping and warned against disclosing sensitive personal identification information to third parties.

Francis Wangusi, the Director General, noted disclosing information that can be used to distinguish or trace identity, such as mobile money PIN, national ID number, bank account PIN, password and date of birth exposed subscribers to fraud.

“Fraudsters want you to act first and think later. If the request conveys a sense of urgency, or uses high-pressure tactics be skeptical; never let their urgency influence your careful review,” he added. 



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