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Saturday, January 18, 2014 

Tales of mobile money woes

PRESS YES: It was Kenya’s Safricom whose launch of Mpesa sent ripples around the world and unleashed a mobile money revolution.


Since entering the public domain, electronic money transfer using the mobile phone platform, has almost literally lit up the airwaves. 

Paperwork is at the minimum and speed is usually counted in minutes. This is the kind of service business people and especially small traders appreciate since banks intimidate them.

Uganda currently has eight registered telecom companies and practically all are involved in mobile money services. 

Unfortunately, the convenience the service offers, is also matched by the efforts to defraud the system by any number of unscrupulous people. Cruder methods like just merely robbing the mobile money agent are also not uncommon.

Many users have confessed to having fallen prey to these fraudsters who show no signs of going away. Instead they are perfecting their own systems.

In 2013,Susan Kalukusu,  the acting Economic Crimes Commissioner at Criminal Investigations and  Intelligence (CIID) headquarters disclosed at the Uganda Mobile Money Association (UMMAA) workshop that over Ush100 million  (about 40,000) was stolen from one mobile money service provider.

MTN Uganda  has fallen victim to fraud by way of  staff members themselves tampering with the system to suit their own pockets.  

According to Jackson Balinura, an accountant with Equity Bank, fraud does not only take place during interactive transfers, but has also expanded towards fake hard cash deals circulating in the mobile money sector.

At least 100 mobile money users lose money every week, some in millions of shillings, police statistics show.

A source in the police public relations office admitted that they are struggling to catch up with the criminals behind these scams.

Some people attribute the increases in fraud cases to the existence of very many unregistered SIMcards, thus making it hard to track suspects and arrest them since these conmen are fond of using fake details to register the cards used in mobile money fraud.

Martha Ahumuza , a mobile money agent lost Ush3.5 million to a conman last last week She said that a client with telephone number 0783860927 wanted to deposit Ush356,600 onto his account.

“When my employer gave this conman the phone to put the pin number, he transacted Ush 3,566,000 and sent it to his phone. We realized it in the evening when balancing the sales,” she said. 

She adds that when she called the number, the owner denied receiving it and switched off his phone. With a bank loan to clear and no more start-up capital, Ahumuza’s business has collapsed.

In another trick, conmen master the agent’s pin code by giving him an invalid number which he repeatedly dials while entering his code. When he gives the fraudster the phone to type in the correct number, he sends the entire agent’s money to himself and disappears. The agent realises later that he was robbed.

Another victim, Joseph Nsubuga, said he received a call from 0704300989 and a man claimed he had credited his account by mistake.

“I checked my account and there was no credit. After like two minutes, the person called again inquiring whether I had received a message. I realized the message had just come in saying, ‘You have received 850,000’.

He said that he was an agent who was sending money to a client and that I should reverse the transaction from my side. He asked whether I had any money on my account to which I said yes. He proceeded to give me a code and finally told me the transaction was hanging since I needed more money on my account as transfer charges.

The message I got on the screen meant nothing and this guy never credited my account in error,  but wanted to access what I had using the code he provided. I don’t know how those messages work, but I didn’t even think of checking my account balance first. I think the screen message I read facilitated him to withdraw the money,” Nsubuga said.

Other fraudsters go to mobile money agents while driving expensive vehicles and pretend to be rushing. They ask to deposit huge amounts, for example Ush3 million (about $1,200).  After sending, they give the agent fake currency and distract him so that he doesn’t realize the counterfeit. By the time you realize it is fake, the fraudster has vanished.

 Subscriber numbers shared among the four mobile money providers have grown from under three million last year to more than four million in 2012, surpassing the country’s about 3.5 million bank accounts. 


By Winnie Mandela, Saturday, January 18th, 2014