As we enter the new year, conmen are also devising fresh strategies of taking Ugandans for a ride; JOSEPH KIMBOWA looks at some of the slickest tricks cons use.
Steven has not nailed down a permanent job since he graduated as a marketer in 2013. When he recently saw a job advert on social media from ‘Java House’, he quickly filed his application.
A few days later, he received an email congratulating him for getting a job as a receptionist at Java House, Bugolobi, where he would earn “$425 per month, plus other allowances including travel, overtime, medical and house”.
He was told he would start work on November 13.
“I had applied to be a marketer but I was happy with the money for the receptionist job,” he says.
He was asked to sign an acceptance letter, scan it and send it back – which he did. A few days later, another email came telling him he had to attend a hotel workers’ training and was required to send $55 (Shs 198,000) to a provided bank account, a mobile money number or through Western Union.
“It is at this point that I started questioning how easy this job had come without even interviews. They were addressing me as ‘Dear Applicant, not by my names and all contacts seemed to originate from Kenya. I called Javas and they told me I was being conned,” says Steven.
Steven escaped. But 50 Ugandan youths did not. Dozens reported at Café Javas in Bugolobi on November 13 ready for work only to be told they had been conned. Some said they had paid as much as Shs 900,000 for ‘training’.
There is a related case where police and Ugandan Communications Commission on November 8, 2017 arrested five imposters who were posing as agents of Kampala Serena hotel. The imposters included; Ronald Mugisha (30) alias Henry Rugambwa, a resident of Kikaaya; Michael Kateregga (25) from Kanyanya; David Kyambadde (31) of Mbalwa; Majid Sseruwoza (35) from Mukono; and Edison Orikiriza (29) alias Musigazi from Kireka.
Abudu Sallam Wasswa, head of legal affairs at UCC, says these fraudsters promised people jobs at Serena but would first ask the applicants to send application and uniform fees before reporting to work. People would send the money, then never hear from them again.
Victims complained to Serena, which involved police and UCC. The five were arrested with at least 100 stolen phones whose contact lists they were using to call persons to defraud.
The same group also hacked into people’s Facebook accounts and sent messages to friends and relatives asking for money. They were arraigned before the Utilities, Wildlife and Standards court at Buganda road on November 10 and charged with electronic fraud and obtaining money by false pretence.
The Computer Misuse Act provides that whoever does anything to cause another to lose money using an electronic platform commits a crime and is liable to 15 years in prison.
“With the amount of evidence we have, we feel these people will be found guilty and we pray for a harsh sentence to send a message to others out there,” said Wasswa.
An advert is running on a local TV channel where herbalist Sylvia Namutebi alias Mama Fina promises Shs 10 million to whoever delivers to her the conmen who used her name to fleece people through social media.
Mama Fina says the criminals created fake Facebook and WhatsApp accounts and started asking people to send mobile money for her services. Most of the targets were Ugandans working in the Middle East.Then, someone wrote this on their social media account:
“Somebody called me with this phone number 0706XXX telling me he was doing some registration online and he mistakenly put my number on what he was registering, that my number is similar to his number and that the password of what he was registering was sent to my phone, which I actually saw as 6310.
“He was now appealing to me to give him the reset code that was sent to my phone so that he could finish his registration. I told him to call me with the number he claimed was similar to mine so that I could verify his claim; he told me he didn’t have credit on that line.
“I [went] online to find out more, only to discover he was actually trying to reset my bank online/yahoo mail password and that he is a fraudster, an account hacker and also a 419er. If I had given him the code which was sent to my phone, he would have used it to reset my bank online/mobile app account. Please let us be careful and vigilant. Fraudsters are devising new ways every day.”
A few weeks ago, an MTN mobile money client wrote in The Observer about how his number was used to SMS his employee commanding her to send mobile money to another number. The employee sent Shs 3 million to this unknown number before calling her boss to verify the message, only to realise they had been conned.
The Criminal Intelligence and Investigations Directorate (CIID) says billions are being lost to cyber fraudsters. Email fraud, mobile money fraud, social media scams and pyramid schemes top the list.
CIID spokesperson Vincent Ssekate says pyramid schemes are the most reported electronic fraud cases. People have fallen for dubious online investment clubs on the promise of daily profits ranging between seven and ten per cent of the money deposited.
Usually invited to high-end hotels, potential investors are taken through the programme and asked to invite as many people as they can. They are regaled with ‘success stories’ of prominent persons and are promised cars and expensive holidays even on cruise ships.
“They will tell you that you can only withdraw your profits after a week or month when the profits have matured. But the initial deposit cannot be withdrawn,” Ssekate says.
If the pyramid is new, the first applicants benefit.
“The first group is usually paid off the monies of the second and third entrants. But after about two months, when all members have reached a stage of withdrawing their profits, problems start...They either tell you the system has issues and there is an upgrade or they will tell you the database crashed and they are doing new information gathering and request you to be patient,” he says.
These excuses last about three days before the website closes or becomes inactive. It is at this stage that people wake up. A few report to police, others suffer quietly.
Detective Assistant Superintendent of Police Moses Etene, the head of systems security and networks forensic investigations at CIID, says 10 cases involving hundreds of complaints against pyramid schemes are being investigated.
“We have so far prosecuted five pyramid schemes and suspects are either on remand or out on bond/bail while the other schemes are fully investigated awaiting DPP (public prosecutors are currently on strike),” said Etene.
So far, a scheme called D9 Club ranks highest. Etene says they discovered that up to Shs 2 billion was lost to this scheme.
“We prosecuted them and managed to get Bank of Uganda to freeze their accounts. But they came out [of jail] and managed to start another scheme and raised another Shs 2 billion or so. We have finished investigations and are waiting for DPP.”
Others being investigated are: Inonfunds.com where clients lost Shs 300 million. The suspects are Conrad Aheebwa, Ramadhan Ssebuchu and Denis Ahengereza. Paul Kimbugwe of Amazon is suspected of defrauding 30 people of Shs 120 million.
Another 20 people lost Shs 250 million to EasyCoin run by Ronald Sseggujja and Patrick Musinguzi. Dickson Ariho, Olivia Bansigaraho (aka Maama Global), Michael Mirimu, Shirah Negesa and Pastor Success Wejuri of Global Finance allegedly conned people of Shs 800 million.
Emaar Ventures conned people out of Shs 34 million while Bansigaraho’s Excel Wealth made off with Shs 20 million. Allan Muhumuza of Zinc7 is accused of a $5,900 (Shs 21 million) shake-down.
“These are just some of them, but there are many of them out there,” said Etene.
He adds other Ugandans are being defrauded through crypto currency or bitcoin. According to Wikipedia, a crypto currency is a digital asset used as a medium of exchange using cryptography to secure the transactions, to control the creation of additional units, and to verify the transfer of assets.
“These are currencies being adopted by some countries. It has ended up bringing fake people to Uganda,” he says.
In Uganda, one example is Prosperity Club which hoodwinked people to invest in these virtual currencies only to lose their money.
“These people are neither regulated nor registered with anyone. So, when you lose your money, who do you go to? You give them the cash and you can’t be sure they will buy the so-called bitcoins for you. So far, the ones we have investigated don’t have bank accounts. They can’t explain where their money is,” said Etene.
Early this year, Bank of Uganda disassociated itself from these schemes.
Etene says the criminal ring widens every day.
“These people open these schemes every day and what surprises me is that Ugandans keep joining them. People should know that these too-good-to-be-true schemes are a mere lie. There is no business where you just make profits on a daily basis,” he says.
Etene gives an example of a complainant who secured Shs 70 million loan from a bank and poured it into one of the schemes which had promised him an eight per cent daily profit.
“Then there is a very old woman who came here and told me ‘my son came and told me there is something very good in Kampala. I sold my land in Kyenjonjo and some cows. I sent the money to the boy and he opened an account for me. But now he tells me the money is lost’,” Etene said.
Chances of recovering your money are almost non-existent. Etene says CIID can only investigate and build a criminal case against the fraudsters for prosecution.
“People that lost their money can choose to lodge civil suits but chances of securing compensation are minimal because these transactions are not receipted and in most cases the con stars waste the money by living lavish lives,” he says.
BANKS TO BLAME
Now, police is starting to suspect banks of either connivance or negligence. In one case at CIID, a priest lost Shs 48 million after hackers got into his account and hoodwinked funders to divert money to another account.
Immediately the transaction was approved, the fraudsters withdrew the money.
“I don’t understand why banks would clear such money very quickly. Shs 48 million is more than the threshold where you are not supposed to give out money without asking some questions. I don’t know what the financial intelligence [departments] of these banks are doing…we think these are inside jobs,”Etene said.
Etene added that priests and pastors are big targets in fraud involving diversion of funds through email hacking. Police spokesperson Emilian Kayima said most conmen confess to targeting rich people deliberately.
“These criminals tell us that rich people will rarely report a case of fraud because they are scared of losing their reputation,” Kayima said.
Etene says it all goes back to desperation, poor regulatory framework and people’s urge for quick solutions to life problems.
Someone will easily send money to a virtual herbalist hoping to get a quick fix to his erectile malfunction probably caused by stress. A person earning Shs 3m per month will send half of it to their pastor’s mobile account hoping to get tenfold in return.
An unemployed youth will sell part of her ancestral land and give money to a virtual employment company that will take her for sex slavery or even disappear on receiving the money. It is that easy!
1. Someone will call, address you by your names and even complain that you have easily forgotten them. They will tell you their first name and claim you met at some conference a few years ago.
He will tell you he now works with a Russian construction company in South Sudan but wants someone in Kampala to procure a very expensive chemical for him. He will ask you to go to a ‘dealer’ (whose contacts he will provide) and pay half of the fee for this chemical. You will be told that if you go through with this, a threefold profit awaits you when the mother company finally pays…
2. Someone will call you and say they work with a telecom company and you have won a huge amount of money or any other goodies. You will be very excited and they will tell you to first deposit a certain amount of airtime on their phones to process your payment. This is an old trick that many people no longer fall for.
3. You will receive a mobile money message showing that you have received a huge amount of money. Immediately the message comes through, someone will call you pleading that the money was sent by mistake to your number.
They will then tell you to send half of that money to their number and keep the other half. If you are not vigilant enough to first check your account balance, you will comply only to realise that you actually emptied your mobile money account.
4. You will receive an email from Mr Smith telling you how he has inherited a fortune and wants to share part of it with you for ‘charity’! He will then ask for your bank details to send the money… the beginning of a possible hack into your account.
5. You will receive an email from a familiar person informing you how they are stuck at an airport in Brunei and need you to urgently send them $500. Many naïve people have fallen for this without crosschecking.
6. In the dead of the night, some people will pluck off your number plate and leave a phone number to call if you want it back. When you call them, they will ask you to deposit Shs 100,000 on a given number. Because URA charges Shs 220,000 for a replacement and reporting to police is almost a waste of time, many people choose to pay and move on!
7. You will be driving in an unfamiliar neighbourhood when two men on a boda boda wave you down, pointing at your tyres. When you stop, they will quickly tell you that your tyre either has low pressure or is loosening up. They will offer to help immediately and before you know it, they have removed the tyre. Some will just charge you for labour but, in most cases, they take off with vehicle parts.
8. Smartly dressed men will offer you a ride, especially if you are a woman. They will then start discussing a lucrative deal concerning diamonds or gold. They will ask if you are interested in making quick money. They will say they have some minerals which they can sell to you and connect you to some other people who will buy the same minerals at a higher price.
If you agree, they will ask you to send them some mobile money as commitment fee. If you send, they will drop you at the next stop and you will never hear from them. If you don’t send the money, they will drug you with chloroform and drive you to an unknown place, rob you of everything and dump you elsewhere.
9. Others use beautiful young women to lure unsuspecting men into a relationship. The women usually move in expensive stolen cars with male colleagues riding in the back seat. When they pick up their supposed dates, they drug and rob them.