In Summary
  • Experts agree that with no security or guarantors required for most of these mobile loans, customers’ personal information becomes the pawn for these devious lenders.
  • The responsibility falls on the smartphone user to understand privacy permissions and their implications.

Lilian Wangui was resting at home one weekend in January when she received a phone call from a strange number.

The person on the end of the line identified himself as a customer care representative at Safaricom.

Having heard about fraudsters who randomly call mobile subscribers with the aim of defrauding them while posing as telecom agents, Wangui was hesitant to believe him.

Except the caller was smarter. He read out her ID number, date of birth and names of some of her next of kin, all which turned out to be correct.

There is no way a fraudster would have all her details, Wangui thought, convinced that the caller was an authentic Safaricom representative.

“The man asked me some generic questions regarding my M-Pesa transactions, all which I confidently answered. He then hang up,” Wangui narrates.

NO NETWORK

Shortly afterwards, Wangui forgot about the caller, and went about her activities at home.

It is then that she realised that her phone had lost network. Unalarmed, she thought this was a technical issue that would phase out. She was wrong.

The problem persisted for hours until her friend advised her to renew the line. “After renewing the line, I was shocked to discover that money on my M-Pesa account was missing. It is then that it dawned on me that I had been conned,” she recounts ruefully.

Devastated, she called the mobile operator, who confirmed that the money had indeed been withdrawn. She was advised to report the matter to the police.

***

DEBT

How debt collectors lay hands on the documents of Jackson Rachilo, a teacher from Suba, is still a mystery to him.

A company called Amedo has been making monthly deductions of Sh4,990 from his salary.

“The company purports that I bought a dining set, 20 iron roofing sheets and a solar panel, property worth Sh89,000 from them on hire purchase in 2010. They claim that I made the transaction at their Kisii branch. I do not know these people and I have never met their agents,” Rachilo laments.

According to the teacher, he has neither met nor been in contact with the people the company claims guaranteed this purchase.

“This company has refused to produce the documents they claim I used or the passport photo taken. I have been to their Head Office in Nairobi and even to the DCI offices in Kisii County without any meaningful assistance,” he adds.

***

Wangui and Rachilo are only a handful of thousands of Kenyans who knowingly or unknowingly play into the hands of fraudsters by sharing vital personal information, with harsh consequences.

Cloud computing and business intelligence expert Erick Were says that while Kenyans have become more conscious of such duplicitous schemes, fraudsters have only got smarter.

With the growing appetite for mobile loans among Kenyans to thank, scammers are now masquerading as money-lending app companies, and capitalising on the desperation of cash-strapped Kenyans, to mine their personal data. This data is later used to commit forgery and other crimes.

LOAN APPS

A cursory search of “mobile loan apps in Kenya” on Google Play Store returns more than 50 results. Most of these apps claim to offer different types of loans on different terms. Out of these, however, very few are genuine lenders.

User reviews seen by Saturday Nation on some of the lending apps paint a grim picture of desperation, but also of bitterness by Kenyans who have been conned out of their hard-earned cash by some of the deceitful app companies.

Prospective borrowers, desperate for a financial boost, usually sign up to these fake money-lending apps by providing vital personal information, often without proper scrutiny.

DATA PRIVACY

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