- East Africa
By FLEVIAN MUTIE
With the advent and the advancement of technology and e-commerce around the globe, the flexibility and ease of both digital and mobile payment systems have created a revolution that provides consumers with many ways for both buyers and sellers to access their money without much struggle. In the recent past, many people have been subjected to waiting for long before their turn to get services, but thanks to this technology, they can now do it at the comfort of their homes by tapping a button.
For millions of Kenyan citizens, mobile phones serve as their banks while others as their mobile offices. Most citizens keep a good amount of their money and savings in their mobile money accounts, while others keep their work-related and personal or official or business files and other important documents in their mobile phones to ease access from anywhere anytime.
However, this has proved not the best way of securing one’s money. The rise of mobile commerce and money transactions has given a loophole to fraudsters to launch their newly invented tricks, which have always enabled them to hack into unsuspecting people’s mobile money accounts and end up vanishing into the thin air with all their hard-earned cash.
Some even masquerade as customer care agents and make calls to unsuspecting mobile money account users who end up relinquishing their personal details unknowingly and eventually lose all their data, money, mobile phones, sim cards, or all. Sammy Gitonga, a Nairobi resident, speaking to IEA News, says that unknown callers masquerading as customer care agents called him to “help” sort out a problem with the registration of his line, only to end up confusing him, and eventually stealing all his money from his mobile savings.
“The next minute, when I checked my MPESA account balance, I was shocked to find it nil, it even had a Fuliza (an MPESA overdraft) of an amount of money I toiled for so long to settle….” he recalls. Taslim Karid says she is not Kenyan, but unknowingly fell for these cheap cons. Taslim recalls receiving a text message on a Sunday morning asking her to provide some details to “properly” register her sim card.
“I ended up being confused by the caller, but as I had not made any request for a new card, and reckoning that a moment earlier, the person posing on the other end as a customer service agent had terminated a call. I then realized that it was a call from a fraudster, but unfortunately, it was too late, as I had already given out most of my details. My account, with tens of thousands, was swept clean, and loans requested via my line, which I haven’t been able to settle until now” she says.
"It was a brief call that did not even last a minute. I did not give any of my details, but funny enough my sim was swapped minutes afterward." Joseph Wambui narrates to IEA Media, adding that he almost fell a victim right then, as his sim card lost memory after disconnecting a call from who he suspected was a fraudster.
“I immediately contacted Safaricom, the mobile service provider, to report the issue as I raised brows that someone had attempted fraud on his number, but despite not giving out his details, his sim was still swapped but his money was still intact in his account as he had just deposited hours before the call.”
Consequently, many Kenyan entrepreneurs and stakeholders in different business sectors are resolving not to use electronic and cashless systems like MPESA, as advised by Kenya’s Ministry of Health, as one of the safest methods of money-handling, amongst other measures recommended for use to contain the deadly COVID-19 virus.
Safaricom recently joined hands with Kenya’s public transport stakeholders to facilitate a cashless payment system through M-PESA to curb the spread of Covid-19, an initiative that saw over 500 PSV vehicles give in to the mobile money service, thus helping them together with other measures put in place, to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Some stakeholders in the transport sector have said they are skeptical and a bit hesitant to use M-PESA to receive payments in form of fares since some passengers have proved to be untrustworthy. For instance, matatu operators in Nairobi have lodged complaints to the mobile service providers that some passengers have always reversed transactions in the form of the fares paid through electronic mobile money transfer systems during their journey.
These passengers diligently pay their fares through the right channels provided, but upon alighting from the vehicle they immediately reverse the transaction, thus leading them to losses. Silvanus Odoyo, a tout who works at City Star Shuttle told IEA News that he recently lost over Sh4,000 in one week, which was a total of money reversed from his account.
“I will no longer continue using MPESA services in my work because my boss has deducted a lot of money from my daily wage” laments Odoyo. “I resolved that I will not allow my passengers to do any cashless payments, especially of their fare with M-pesa, I have learnt the hard way after I lost all that money. The best way to do it, I have asked the boss to help us acquire a paybill number so that we do not frequently lose money again,” he says.
This trend has also left the transport systems in Kenya almost paralyzed as the stakeholders now complain that Kenyans, especially passengers in Nairobi have a tendency of reversing transactions after they pay their fare. Kenya’s mobile money and telephone service providers have also reported a rampant increase in the number of instances and incidences of mobile money fraud, especially reversals, which are rampantly on the rise. Tyrus Kamau, an information security consultant says that there is now a great concern about the fast proliferation of technology in Kenya.
To curb this, most matatus plying through the Nairobi metropolis, after a joint consultation, have come up with a Safaricom MPESA paybill system, where their passengers can book for matatu seat, pay and wait at the stage. “We have systems like NFC, which we are soon putting into place for matatus, taxis, businesses to use. All other entities with strong vulnerabilities can also use this system, beginning with banks and other merchants.” Says Kamau.
Kenya is one of the growing states that has strived to adopt technology, including mobile money transfer. Kamau adds that this has helped the nation to ease the stress and struggle of getting to a bank or carrying cash, but on the other hand, this has widened the loop for cybercriminals, who have now turned their attention and are now routinely targeting payment systems and mobile money accounts belonging to unsuspecting owners.
Responding to these claims and complaints, Sarah Muturi, a Safaricom dealer, to enlighten the public, told IEA News that before any disputed transaction is reversed, the service provider contacts the recipient to confirm the authenticity of the said transaction. “...if, and when called severally and still do not respond, the money is automatically reversed to the sender’s account.” She said.
The Kenya government recently installed the Computer Abuse and Cyber Crimes Act, 2018, a clause which states that failure to reverse an erroneous mobile transaction may earn Kenyans a fine worth Sh200,000 or a two-year jail term, or both. Ironically, this has raised fear in many Kenyans who end up accepting the reversal of rightful transactions for fear of the above penalty and thus lose their money.