On the morning of Saturday, May 15, several Kenyans around the country who had downloaded and invested in what they thought was a hot e-commerce app – Amazon Web Worker Africa – woke up to find the app deleted from Google Play and the website taken offline.
In Facebook, Whatsapp and Telegram groups and channels associated with the platform, it was pure chaos and confusion as users asked questions and started pointing fingers. Some still held out hope that the platform would return online, citing maintenance issues. Soon enough, however, as they were blocked across all platforms by those who invited them to sign up and social media pages also went missing, it became apparent even to the staunchest of believers that Amazon Web Worker Africa was the latest in a long list of lucrative online scams Kenyans have fallen victim to in recent years.
Other big names on this list of shame include Public Likes and Live Auction, while a slew of other small-time apps with comparatively less traction continue to fleece Kenyans as well.
Some have even sunk under the weight of debts after taking loans to “invest” as much money as possible into such schemes.
In this article, Business Today explores some of the biggest online scams of all time in Kenya – including digital ponzi schemes, job scams, fake websites & lotteries, stocks, crypto and forex scams among others – and offers tips on how to distinguish between legitimate operations and serious scams that might leave you with a hole in your pocket.
- Online Ponzi Schemes
Amazon Web Worker Africa, Public Likes and Live Auction all fall under the category of online ponzi schemes.
The basic principles of these services are the same – aggressive focus on referrals and user invites in exchange for rewards, sleek and professional websites and mobile applications, ambiguous and worryingly simple tasks supposedly being completed by users and integration with mobile money platforms.
Live Auction, for instance, claimed that users would be paid to watch ads from clients, while Amazon Web Worker Africa falsely claimed to be an affiliate of Amazon Inc. and promised that users could make between Ksh2,500-Ksh5,000 a day “helping Amazon merchants complete e-commerce orders ordering tasks through your mobile phone.”
Many of the platforms initially make real payments to users, leading victims to invest more money and invite as many people as possible. At the end, it’s always the same story – the platforms vanish overnight leaving victims distressed after losing large sums of cash.
How to Spot and Avoid Online Ponzi Schemes
These digital scams borrow a leaf from traditional pyramid schemes in that users are often required to recruit others to earn money and earnings are tied to referrals.
Online ponzi schemes rarely offer any real products or services, and instead hinge heavily on marketing and promotion.
They also promise unbelievable returns on investment for short periods of a few days or weeks. If the promise of 20-80% returns on your money every day seems too good to be true, it is because it probably is.
As always, it is important to do your own thorough research before depositing funds to any online investment scheme. Ensure its legitimacy and that it is properly regulated, and that there is an actual value exchange going on as part of the operation.
Also, don’t dismiss all referral-based schemes as scams. Several leading platforms in different sectors use referrals and rewards as ways to attract new customers, but in these cases the platforms or companies offer actual products or services.
2. Finance and Investment (Stocks, Crypto and Forex Scams)
When it comes to trading stocks, cryptocurrency and forex, don’t send all your money to the first link you get sent on Whatsapp promising 1000x returns.
Several online scams exist out there disguised as legitimate trading platforms for stocks, crypto and forex. Unlike with legitimate platforms, these services offer users little control over their supposed investments. They lack access to real-time information on their portfolios and trades or customer support and, in many cases, have their funds controlled by others.
Victims are lured by the promise of quick and high returns. Unlike legitimate and regulated money market funds or fixed income products, these supposed investment offerings are simply meant to attract as much funds from as many victims as possible.
For example, with crypto hot in 2021, many in Kenya are falling for fraudulent Initial Coin Offerings (ICO). While many ICOs are legitimate, the vast majority have no real business plans or technology behind them. Some are purely get-rich-quick schemes.
When it comes to investment, make sure you work with platforms, companies and brokers regulated by the Capital Markets Authority (CMA) and other relevant authorities.
READ ALSO>>>>>All That Bitcoin Traders Need to Know
3. Online Dating Scams
Many in Kenya thought they found love online only to end up as the victims of elaborate scams.
Scammers use carefully crafted and attractive profiles to lure in their victims, whom they get close to and gain their trust. They might or might not use their real identities, but stay in touch with their victims and take time to know them, making promises and declarations of their boundless love.
Eventually, these scammers might ask for personal financial information such as bank details, or create stories to convince you to send money via mobile money or bank transfer. Madly in love, victims often fall for such scams sometimes several times before realizing they have been conned.
In such situations, one has to be cautious before sending money or handing over crucial personal information.
4. Job Scams
A lot of online scams have popped up in recent years premised on offering jobs.
In Kenya, they often set up online platforms including websites and falsely claim to be associated with well-known brands and organizations including telcos, supermarket chains and restaurant chains.
Messages inviting users to apply for what are often a set number of ‘limited positions’ are widely circulated on platforms such as Whatsapp, and links redirect users to the fake platforms used to lure in victims.
Those who apply might be told that they have gotten the jobs, but are required to pay various fees. Some scammers request for fees from the onset including application charges.
Always verify that vacancies and job opportunities have been circulated by firms through official channels. You can also always pick up the phone to call, email or message a firm regarding a job posting you have seen before rushing to pay any fees.
5. Fake Websites & Lotteries
During your time on the internet, social media or messaging apps – you might have been met with a message informing you that you can win, or have already won, various prizes including cash or equipment.
Sometimes, these messages are circulated heavily on messaging platforms informing you that cars or phones are up for grabs, and you need to click on the link before time runs out. These links lead to fake websites, which can be harmful in more ways than one.
In addition to those which solicit for cash or bank details, others might infect your device with malicious software including ransomware or viruses.
It is important to verify that any promotions by companies have been shared through their official channels before rushing to click on the link promising you a brand new Toyota.