While I was in a village in Kenya two weeks ago, I was woken up at night by a young man who needed help to get his SIM card properly registered. This is because an agent from Safaricom had noted an anomaly in the registration of the SIM card.
Half asleep and with only one eye open, I told him to ignore the call because that was a scammer.
He insisted that it was a serious matter and they had asked him to find a different phone to follow the instructions they were giving on how to get the SIM card properly registered. It is then I decided to wake up and find out what was happening.
M-PESA USSD scam
I asked him to tell the ‘Safaricom agent’ to call back after a few minutes. When I checked the phone, I realized that the young man had been tricked to send Kshs 187 to a certain phone number.
He didn’t have money on M-PESA, so what they did was get him to enroll for FULIZA, which is an M-PESA loan facility, then went ahead to make him get a loan and send them the money.
I talked to Safaricom on Twitter and they of course gave me the standard answer; Safaricom will only call you from 0722000000, and that the money cannot be reversed because the recipient had already utilized the money.
I went ahead to ask if Safaricom has mechanism of protecting its vulnerable users by for example taking disciplinary action against the number or user that received the money, and Safaricom did not give any response. Ignored by Safaricom, I let it go but the scams did not go.
Scammer strikes back
This week, a scammer called me on my Airtel line and told me that I had won KShs 75,000. They assured me that I needed not to have participated in any promotion to win since this was Airtel rewarding its users for sticking to its network. They told me that they would help me receive the money using bank or even M-PESA if I was not able to access Airtel Money where I was.
They took me through a process where they wanted me to dial *234*0*1*1# on a Safaricom line, which is a direct method of accessing MPESA using USSD. I told them I was not able to do that, and later checked to find that the process would have enrolled me to Fuliza. They then asked me to try the M-PESA Menu where they directed me to withdraw cash using ATM, and gave me the Agent Number 286286, the number that is used to withdraw money from M-PESA using Equity Bank ATMs.
The point was to either get me to send money to a phone number, or to make me authorize an ATM withdrawal and give them the code, which they will use to withdraw money from my M-PESA through an ATM.
Telcos are not doing enough
While most people reading this will identify such scams from a mile away, there is a big number of Kenyans who cannot, and these continue to be scammed every day.
How can they be protected?
Unfortunately, Safaricom and other telcos are simply not doing enough to protect the digitally vulnerable. Safaricom failed to comment on whether they can take action against the M-PESA users involved simply because they do not. They will only ask you to report to the police, making the whole process even more complex.
I followed up with Airtel Kenya to know what actions they take on such people but they only responded that they would inform the relevant teams for investigation. They did not respond on whether they take any action against the scammers.
If Safaricom wanted, they could verify the information and permanently block M-PESA scammers on their platforms and never allow them to register any SIM card on their platform. This way, they will help even the vulnerable people to enjoy the benefits afforded by mobile phones. Why don’t they do it? I do not know.
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