Last week I got a call from Rachael Mwine who asked whether I would join an NTV’s show, Perspective, that is hosted by Josephine Karungi.
I inquired what the topic was going to be. She responded that it was on the ever-increasing scams in society. I remember I laughed at the idea of someone suggesting me to discuss scams.
Was I the ideal scammer? Rachael corrected me saying it is not the people that are scammed but, rather, those who know about the vice. I agreed since I had even been a victim of scams. So, last Sunday, at the recording of the program, I found myself actually deeply getting insights into the world of scammers.
I was joined by Luke Owoyesigire, the Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesperson, and a live audience of mainly university students. As we discussed, it became apparent that each person has at least one story to tell about scams. Some have experienced or fallen victim of such scams while others feel shy about disclosing their escapades.
I narrated to them how I was conned. I had been looking for a house to rent. I was taken to inspect a house on Entebbe road. The agent took me to an empty newly repainted house. I liked the house. We then agreed on the price. He told me he would come to town with a tenancy agreement and, upon signing, I would pay. That was fair.
The next day, the agent came with a contract signed by the supposed owner of the house. I went through it and found all was perfect. I paid him. He promised that we would meet the next day such that I would take possession of the house. The next day, I waited and waited. He never turned up. Suspicious about this silence, I headed to the house to see if I could find him there.
What I found was beyond shock. There was a family, well settled! The occupants looked at me as though I was insane. They told me that that house had never been advertised for renting. It was their family home. And at no time was it empty.
I kept pinching myself, wondering whether I had gone nuts. It was the same house I had been to and the same fresh color that had just been painted. But again, when I saw the clothes hanging and curtains, all home décor in place, I was totally confused.
I quickly retraced my steps. I reported the matter to police and I was told it was a common thing in which thousands of people had been shown non-existent homes and, after collecting rent, the scammers disappear to cheat another person.
In this case, we were able to apprehend the conman. At the Perspective show, there were other testimonies of such scams.
A girl narrated how she was offered a lift by someone and met a neatly-dressed man inside who was being referred to as the boss. Somewhere along the way, “some diamonds” became a center of conversation. The exchange was that the value of the diamond was about Shs 300 million.
According to Owoyesigire, Kampala Metropolitan Police alone received over 200 scam reports. And those are the people who have the audacity to report to police. The ones who don’t report for the shame that is brought to them for having been hoodwinked are probably in thousands.
The scammers have now upped their game. In this age of mobile money, the need to verify whoever is seeking for help is something we need to do all the time even when you are sending money to a known contact. The onus is on you to first verify the one requesting for the money.
What I do not know is how such con-people access people’s details and then send messages requesting for money. I know a relative who lost Shs 18 million because the message asking for money came from his elder brother. We do not need to go to the ones who sell black dollars!
Apparently, these scammers are very smart and, indeed, they should be. They will profile their victim for a long time before they strike.
For example, there was a scammer that relentlessly called me several times claiming to be working for one of the telecoms. I would play along. He would tell me I had won a boda boda. He did it several times and when I told him I did not want a boda boda, he insulted me and never called again.
But what leads us to become gullible to such scams? The first, according to police, is greed. The idea of earning big in one go and quick money are the main reasons that such a vice has persisted. Everybody needs to be aware of how to detect such scams and nip them in the bud. Otherwise, we have become victims of many vices.
The author is a human rights expert.