In mid-2018, cases of rampant sim-swap fraud were on the rise attracting the attention of the Communication Authority. By then, a couple of Kenyans had turned to social media to express their bad experience in the hand scammers.
In his response, the then CA Director General Francis Wangusi described the swap as theft of Personally Identifiable Information (PII) that can be used to uniquely identify or authenticate a person.
“PII refers to any information that can be used to distinguish or trace an individual’s identity such as mobile money PIN, national ID number, bank account PIN, password, date of birth, among others,” read part of his statement to the press.
However, what was not clear from Wangusi is if this stealing can affect the dead too! and even more weirdly, if one dead man can steal from another dead man!
Fast forward to 2021, Kenya’s Directorate of Criminal Investigations ( DCI) has unearthed graves that mark the increasingly dark world of the modern, lethal and high-tech phone scammers who pounce on the devices of the dead and steal their wealth hardly weeks after their burial. This follows the arrest of at least five prime suspects over the SIM-swap syndicate.
In a Twitter thread, DCI narrates how the five used the phone numbers of two dead men – Rev Peter Kania Kariuki, the PCEA Secretary-General who died of Covid-19 related complications on July 26, 2020, and Nairobi businessman Amos Ngata Muiruri, who died after a botched surgery almost four months later on November 22, 2020. Both men died at the Nairobi Hospital.
DCI explains that hardly a week after Ngata was buried at his farm in Ndunyu Njeru, Nyandarua County, on December 2, 2020, one of his sons discovered that the father’s telephone which he used for mobile bank transactions when he was alive had suddenly gone dead. The line was swiftly activated on another unknown phone.
Kes 2.8 million lost
Following a successful reversal of the line by mobile service provider Safaricom to the family, it was discovered that more than KES 2.8 million had been stolen through the NCBA App operated by the NCBA Bank Kenya, the Eazzy Banking App operated by Equity Bank and the M-coop cash app run by the Co-operative Bank. The money was transferred to a different phone number.
According to the DCI, after investigations of this act, it was revealed that the telephone number which was used to clean up Ngata’s bank accounts was the registered line of Rev Kania before he died. The scammers had also stolen Sh500,000 from Rev Kania’s bank account without the knowledge of his widow and his children. Unknown to Rev Kania’s family, the telephone line he used before he died had been used to steal money from the late Ngata and many other Kenyans.
Subsequent joint investigations by the Operations Branch, Crime Research and Intelligence Bureau (CRIB) and Special Service Unit (SSU) have since opened a can of worms. Detectives uncovered graves that mark the dark world of the modern, lethal and high-tech phone scammers.
It’s through Ngata’s phone that detectives made a breakthrough in the major SIM-swap fraud through which the dead and the living have lost millions of shillings.
“The syndicate mostly targets wealthy individuals – especially those who have died, and their families placed their death announcements in newspapers. They also target telephone lines of the elderly and those who have travelled abroad.” Said DCI in the Twitter thread.
How it is done
Besides, the crimes investigative unit records that the telephone lines of those that fall in that category have minimal chances of raising suspicion. They normally strike soon after the person dies and before the family establishes the exact wealth in the deceased’s bank accounts.
In a successful SIM swap scam, the cybercriminals hijack the victim’s cell phone number and use it to gain access to his/her sensitive personal data and bank accounts through the Mobile Banking Apps available on Android and other smartphones.
Once they take control of the swapped SIM card, the crooks insert it in their phones to access the financial accounts and transfer all the funds to other scammed telephone numbers. Once the cash is withdrawn, they switch off the stolen cards frustrating efforts by detectives to track them down.
While investigations are ongoing, detectives have established that dozens of other Kenyans have since been defrauded by the multi-faced gang.