Agencies struggle to deal with sim swap gangs on the loose

Officials say cases increase during weekends and public holidays

In Summary
  • Dozens of unsuspecting customers of various mobile phone providers and banks have been affected by the trend amid a campaign to address it.
  • The telcos are now running a campaign to ask the subscribers to take precautions to address the menace of sim swap.

Multi-agency teams are scrambling to deal with gangs behind increasing cases of sim swap and banking fraud in the country.

The cases increase during weekends and public holidays, officials aware of the trend say.

Dozens of unsuspecting customers of various mobile phone providers and banks have been affected by the trend amid a campaign to address it.

Officials aware of the trend say millions of shillings are defrauded either from banks or mobile phones in the fraud, which happens as the gangs take charge of a subscriber’s number.

The telcos are now running a campaign to ask the subscribers to take precautions to address the menace of sim swap.

For instance, Safaricom wants subscribers to dial *100*100# to whitelist their numbers to stop unintended swap.

One manager in the banking industry said the issue is rampant and needs serious steps to address.

On their side, police who are also main players, say they are running campaigns to address the menace.

They say they had noted a trend where fraudsters keep nagging one’s phone by either calls from a constant unknown numbers, or being engaged on non issues.

As the caller keeps nagging, at certain point the subscriber gets tired of the  calls and the next thing he or she does is to try to switch off the phone.

“The intention is to have your phone switched off and as a result, it is from this point that they are able now to replace your number and enhance the fraud.”

The subscribers are advised to avoid long calls from unknown callers and not to switch off their phones in the process.

They at times use different numbers, which are already swapped to commit the crime.

One victim told police he was in the CBD two weeks ago when he noticed his mobile phone was not making calls or sending texts.

The victim said he thought his mobile phone had technical issues and switched it off and on several times in vain.

He did not know the number had been swapped by fraudsters who were now in charge.

The victim rushed home to access wifi and while there he called his wife to inform her his phone had issues.

The wife called Safaricom who informed her the number had been swapped somewhere in Kericho by people who purported to be the real owners.

That was almost an hour later. The real owner rushed to Safaricom and sought to regain his line and after a long interrogation, the attendants agreed with him he was the genuine one.

It emerged the agent who committed the swap did not follow the laid down procedure which includes calling the number to confirm if it had any issue.

By the time the subscriber had gained control of the line and contacted his bank, which was connected to the phone, he realised his Sh3 million had been swept from his account.

The fraudsters had registered his number for internet banking, sent money from the account to other accounts in different bank accounts and mobile numbers.

The fact that they were in charge of the phone for that long, they were able to send the money and withdraw fraudulently.

The number that were used in the transactions have since been found to be fraudulent.

The teams investigating the cases say they are making efforts to trace and crack the gang.

They suspect some insiders in banks and in the telcos are involved in the crime.

The trend has been there amid efforts by the agencies to address it.

For instance, former Kasarani Officer Commanding Police Division (OCPD) Peter Mwanzo on, May 23, 2022, narrated how he fell victim to a sim card swapping syndicate that left his accounts dry on the night of January 4, 2022.

"Within less than 12 hours,  Sh597,100 had been transferred from my Equity bank account to Mpesa, sent to an unknown phone number and withdrawn in Mulot, Bomet county. How this happened is still a mystery," he told court.

It all started by receiving a phone call through a private number.

"The private number called several but l did not pick. I put my phone on flight mode to avoid disturbance. Upon turning on the phone it had no network," Mwanzo informed the court.

He added that following the frustration over lack of network the whole night of January 4 he decided to visit a Safaricom shop in Kasarani area the following day at 8am.

On inquiring with the telecommunication attendant, he was informed that his sim card had failed and was advised to do a replacement for the same.

"Moments later, l tried to purchase airtime and send money but the transaction failed and got a message that l had exceeded my limits."

"I also received several messages including those that informed me that l had registered with a Fuliza account and Airtel Money. I had never applied for any loan or registered with Airtel.

"Following the revelations, the officer said he immediately sought for his Mpesa and Equity bank statements to confirm if indeed the alleged transactions were conducted by a third party.

"To my surprise, within 12 hours, l had transacted from an Equity Bank account to M-pesa to a tune of Sh597,100.

The amount was transacted over the night and withdrawn via an agent number in Mulot Bomet," he said.

The money was transferred in four tranches.

He said the sim card was easily switched or swapped by someone who was at Donholm, Nairobi county that evening and money was withdrawn at a point in Mulot Bomet county.

"I could not explain how it happened as l have never shared my pin or personal details with anyone. This is madness. It seemed easy for the third party to use my sim card," the officer said.




-Edited by SKanyara

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