Mobile money scam victim lifts lid on con

Subscribers make mobile money transactions in Kampala, in 2019. A Kikuube-based farmer  has lost his cash in mobile money transaction fraud. PHOTO/ABUBAKER LUBOWA.

What you need to know:

  • On September 5, Mr Emmanuel William Ufitimana lost Shs932,111 to mobile money transaction fraud.

AKikuube-based farmer has accused MTN Uganda of looking on and/or facilitating fraud against its customers who lose cash to mobile money transaction fraud.
Armed with evidence of how Shs932,111 was stolen from his mobile money account and what he says are efforts to frustrate him, Emmanuel William Ufitimana—a resident of Wairagaza, Butoole Parish, Kikuube District—is hopeful that justice will be served.

Mr Ufitimana, 50, says he had been beguiled by phone calls from suspected scammers before the incident in which he lost his hard-earned cash.
 The holder of a Diploma in Computer Science and Information Technology decided to document and record his entire ordeal.
Concerns over the safety of mobile money have been rife, but the major operators—Airtel Uganda and MTN Uganda—have consistently defended their platforms as safe. 


By March, the value of mobile money was Shs145.6 trillion. In the same period, mobile money users grew to about 30 million
This publication presented Mr Ufitimana’s allegations, including a statement he made to MTN officials on September 13, to Rhona Arinaitwe, the spokesperson of the telecom giant, and Martin Ssebuliba, its senior manager in- charge of brand and communications.
Mr Sebuliba said MTN Uganda is still investigating the matter.
“It is indeed true that our customer Emmanuel William Ufitimana lodged a complaint with us regarding a debit off his mobile money account. Our forensics team is still investigating this matter and will be reaching out to the complainant after the full facts are established,” he told Monitor.

Mr Sebuliba added: “MTN is and will continue educating and creating awareness of fraudulent activities by con men. We urge our customers to be vigilant and not to share their PIN with anyone.”
The ordeal
On September 5, Mr Ufitimana received a strange call on 0786352914 at around 10:39am. The caller said he was an employee of MTN Uganda.
 Mr Ufitimana realised that this could be a fraudster who wanted to steal from him.  What, however, shocked him was that the caller knew the exact balance he had on his phone.

“I discouraged him and our conversation ended abruptly as he was vowing to take my money,” Mr Ufitimana narrates.
A few seconds passed before a lady called Gorret Masika initiated a request for Ufitimana to authorise a transaction of Shs932,111 from his mobile money account.
“I pressed cancel to refuse that request as I had been doing before. Unfortunately, after a few seconds I received a message from MTN telling me that Gorett Masika had deducted Shs932,111 from my account. Checking my balance, my money had gone,” he says.
Within two hours, Mr Ufitimana says he reported the case to the nearest police post and then to the MTN Service Centre, at least 40km away in Masindi.

He narrates that he shared the recording of the exchanges he had made with the manager of the Masindi MTN Service Centre, wondering how somebody could know his balance without his personal identification number (PIN).
The manager at MTN Masindi promised to get back to him. After waiting for days without a response, he went back to the centre only to find another manager. 
He presented the issue to the new manager and again shared the recording. He was again told to wait for the results of an investigation. When this did not yield anything, he took to MTN Uganda’s Twitter where he was advised to report the matter with the recording to the MTN Security Department.
“At the MTN Security Department, I met one manager who promised [after hearing the recording of our talk] to make a call to another manager,” he said, adding that he was told workers of MTN MOMO confirmed that he approved the withdrawal.

First query
Mr Ufitimana demanded that the MTN experts demonstrate to him whether his PIN, which he says is known to him only, had been used to withdraw his cash or that the scammers had sophisticated software that beats the MTN system.
On March 29, MTN Mobile Money Uganda Ltd—the MTN Uganda company that deals with mobile money—issued a statement citing “great concern” following a message circulating on social media in which an anonymous person claimed the disappearance of Shs2.7m off their mobile money wallet. 
The message alluded to insiders in the company having access to customers’ secret PINs.
In its defence, MTN Mobile Money Uganda Ltd assured its more than 13 million active customers that their Mobile Money PIN “is secret information inaccessible to anybody inside or outside the company, except the customer.”
Second query
Yet five months later, Mr Ufitimana was facing similar challenges. 
“If I refused to approve a request initiated by somebody by not putting a 5-digits PIN that your company gave me to protect my money, but somebody withdrew it using other tricks/on your software, who is responsible for that?” Mr Ufitimana asked.
 “Do you have anyone using a mobile money number that is not registered using a valid ID today?”

After taking his money, he says, the fraudster called him twice using different numbers. He has the recordings.
The mobile money behemoth advises its customers to follow three “golden rules of security” when transacting using MTN Mobile Money.
Customers are advised against sharing their PIN, code, or the One-Time Password (OTP) with anyone. They are also told to choose PIN combinations that cannot easily be guessed and only consider the company’s communication if it is coming from a specific number they advertise. 
Mr Ufitimana insists he did not violate any of the “golden rules of security” yet he hasn’t received any answers to his two questions.
Mobile Money platforms by telecoms are regulated by the Bank of Uganda. In May the Uganda Communication Commission (UCC) warned the public against the increasing cases of fraud on mobile money platforms and through Sim Cards.

Growing cases
A 2020 report by the Police’s Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) revealed that at least Shs5 billion was fraudulently sent to 877 Airtel Uganda Sim Cards while 755 MTN Sim Cards fraudulently received at least Shs5.5 billion via mobile money. The money was quickly withdrawn by the scammers.
Earlier this year, Henry Bukenya lost more than Shs7m when someone stole his mobile phone.
 Mr Bukenya wondered how the thieves were able to access his account including the National Identification details. 
Airtel Uganda, the company accused, acknowledged receiving the complaint in November 2021 and the actions taken include blocking his account to investigate the allegations.

Airtel Mobile Commerce Uganda Ltd eventually acknowledged the fraud, saying insider connivance enabled it. It added that the culprit was identified and “appropriate action was taken.” Mr Bukenya was compensated in February 2022.
In the same year, a security breach on a consumer finance aggregator, Pegasus Technologies, compromised the mobile money network in the country. More than Shs10 billion reportedly went up in smoke.

Payment system providers and operators, among which include mobile money operators and aggregators, must within 24 hours notify the Bank of Uganda, the regulator, of suspected or confirmed fraud, security breach, and material service interruptions, according to regulations, provided under the National Payment Systems Act.