Ugandans lose Shs1.8t to criminals in one year

The Director of Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID), Mr Tom Magambo. PHOTO/ FRANK BAGUMA

What you need to know:

  • Out of the Shs1.8 trillion, the police managed to recover only Shs80b.

Ugandans lost cash and valuable assets worth Shs1.8 trillion to criminals in 2023, up from Shs859b the year before, despite overall crime prevalence declining by 1.5 percent last year.

It is unclear if the figures contained in the 2023 Uganda Police Force (UPF) annual crime report released yesterday mean more cash or asset-related criminal activities, or victims, or fewer commissions involving bigger amounts of money and valuables.  

The law enforcement agency recovered Shs80b out of the Shs1.8 trillion lost. 
The crime of obtaining money by false pretence was the biggest contributor to the losses, accounting for Shs723b, pointing to handiwork of scammers (locally christened bafere) that target foreign investors and the moneyed at home. 

The amount of cash that thieves stole last year alone grossed Shs175b, property lost in general crime was valued at Shs112b, while banks lost up to Shs87b in fraudulent transactions.
The police compute the losses by totalling cash and estimated value of lost valuables.

Releasing the crime report yesterday, Inspector General of Police (IGP) Martins Okoth Ochola downplayed the losses, which although higher than for 2022, are dwarfed by Shs11.7t lost in 2020.
The police chief yesterday declined to take questions on the reported losses and instead asked journalists to wait for details and explanations during next Monday’s police press briefing.  

Phone snatching
According to police, thieves stole mobile phone handsets worth Shs506b from 7,311 victims last year, a 6.8 percent increase from 2022.
Investigators estimated the worth of handsets recovered within the same period to be worth Shs1.5b.
“Most of these cases occurred as a result of snatching from [unsuspecting] members of the public,” the police crime report reads in part.

The report shows that Kampala Metropolitan Police North region, which covers Kawempe, Nansana, Maganjo and areas along Northern Bypass, registered the highest cases of mobile phone handset thefts, followed by Rwizi Police Region (Mbarara and its neighbourhood) and Kampala Metropolitan Police South.

Left to right: Uganda Prisons Service Director of Correctional Services Milton Tiyo, IGP Martins Okoth Ochola, Deputy Chief of Military Intelligence Col Abdul Rugumayo, DPP Jane Frances Abodo, Financial Intelligence Authority Director of Compliance and Training David Ngobi, Deputy IGP Maj Gen Geoffrey Tumusiime Katsigazi and Senior Technical Advisor to the Governance and Security Programme Rachel Odoi Musoke during the launch of the Police Annual Crime Report 2023 at Police Headquarters in Naguru in Kampala on February 21, 2024.

Phone snatching and related crimes have become a concern to telecommunication companies and security agencies, with suspects caught on street Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras in broad day light grabbing the devices from motorists making calls.
The phone thieves, or their accomplices, then breach the passwords used to lock the phones, and withdraw mobile money or vacuum bank accounts of their victims through online transactions.

However, investigations to track phone thieves is costly and time-consuming given the fact that the security agencies are short on advanced technology and numbers of specialist cyber forensic investigators.

In many insistence, the victims have to fund the investigators to obtain call data of stolen phones. Telecoms charge more than Shs50,000 to get each call data and it must be backed by a court order.
Several telecom companies and financial institutions have invested heavily in advertisements to ensure the owners of the mobile phones report theft as soon as the incident happens.

They also advise mobile phone owners not to share their passwords with anyone or use easy-to-crack passwords for their mobile money applications.
Last year, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) directed all telecom companies to register their clients afresh to validate the particulars of the SIM card users and stem cybercrime.
The communications sector statutory regulator last November switched off the lines of thousands of mobile phone subscribers who failed to validate their particulars by the re-registration deadline. 

 Corporate crimes
Police reported yesterday that Uganda lost more than Shs200b in corporate crimes such as causing financial loss, embezzlement and bank frauds. 
Rising fraud cases and weak laws, both of which undermine the integrity of the financial system in the country, prompted the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global body that tackles money laundering, terrorist and proliferation financing, to place Uganda on its grey list. 

The import of this terse action, which has continued to bite to-date, is that financial transactions to or those routed through Uganda are under tighter scrutiny, resulting in some global cash transfer platforms blacklisting Uganda over fears the funds could end in bankrolling criminal activities, among them terrorism. 

The government scrambled reforms, including a raft of administrative and legal enactments, among them, instituting a new law requiring mandatory disclosure of beneficial owners of companies, trusts, and offshore investments.

 Last year, the new executive director of the Financial Intelligence Authority, Mr Samuel Were Wandera, disclosed that the reforms had impressed FATF, which would deploy its experts for in-person evaluation, pending a decision on whether or not to take Uganda off the punishing grey list by this month.

Graphic / Mike Louboyera Musaasizi

Obtaining money by false pretence

Our analysis of the data in the police report show that losses in cases of obtaining money by false pretence increased four-fold last year from 2022, despite only 48 more cases being registered in 2023.
Obtaining money by false pretense is, under the Penal Code Act, a misdemeanour or a minor offence that at most attracts prison sentences of not more than five years regardless of the amount of money or property involved.

Some of the standout scams that police registered and investigated last year were the conning of hundreds of Ugandans of more than Shs10b in pyramid schemes, among them, Capital Chicken.
Assistant IGP Tom Magambo, the UPF director of criminal investigations, in comments at the crime report release yesterday, noted that they take defrauding of citizens through pyramid schemes “seriously”.
Detectives, he said, have set up joint investigations to apprehend the masterminds so that Ugandans aiming to cash in on quick cash do not fall prey to extortionists and scammers. 
“We take fraud very seriously. We are carrying out joint investigations against these groups who are fleecing money from people. They have different dimensions. Some have external players, but whenever we get information, we investigate them,” AIGP Magambo said.