Options available via the M-Pesa USSD code *334#. [Photo/ Gadgets Africa]
Options available via the M-Pesa USSD code *334#. [Photo/ Gadgets Africa]

Scammers are getting more creative with the tactics they use to fleece Kenyans of their hard-earned cash. Mobile money drove financial inclusion to new hights, but coupled with internet and social media access, has opened up new avenues being exploited to fleece unsuspecting individuals.

It is important to know the tricks scammers use to avoid falling for their schemes. In recent months, new patterns have emerged in cases targeting mobile money users.

Social Media-based Scams

Whenever Safaricom or M-Pesa users experience issues or challenges with transactions, many often reach out to the company’s customer care representatives via Twitter and Facebook to receive assistance and resolve the issues. Safaricom’s official accounts are known to promptly respond to customers’ queries.

Having noticed this, many scammers have set up several accounts pretending to be Safaricom customer care. It isn’t easy to detect them as they adopt the same profile images and similar handles to the official pages.

Once a user tags a verified Safaricom account in a query on Twitter, for instance, a fake account will respond within seconds asking the user to message them for further assistance. An experiment by Business Today in which an official Safaricom account was tagged in a tweet found that 3 different fake accounts pretending to be Safaricom responded to the tweet within two minutes – several minutes before the actual Safaricom account actually responded.

The fake accounts will ask you to message them your phone number via Direct Message (DM) for assistance. They adopt professional language similar to Safaricom’s actual representatives to avoid suspicion.

Once you share your number with them, you will be contacted almost immediately. As the customer believes that they are talking to Safaricom, they are likelier to comply with requests for more information and details – exposing themselves to several scams, including USSD scams (read on for more on this).

It is important to check for the verified tag before engaging any account purporting to be Safaricom that engages you.

USSD Scams

USSD scams have been gaining popularity with M-Pesa scammers. It is based on the accessibility of Safaricom through the *334# USSD code.

Many customers are used to accessing M-Pesa via the SIM toolkit or app, and are therefore unaware of the features of the M-Pesa USSD.

For example, having convinced you that you are speaking to a customer care representative, you will be asked to follow USSD prompts or enter a USSD code to resolve issues with your line and complete the problematic transaction. Should you fall prey to such a scheme, you may unknowingly transfer funds directly to the scammer.

It is important to be alert to avoid falling for such schemes. Importantly, do not share your PIN with anyone and be wary of requests to enter USSD codes to ‘resolve’ issues with your line. On its website, Safaricom warns customers against USSD scams.

The company states: “In addition to send money via the App or SIM toolkit, a customer can also send money via ussd by dialing *334#”

“Do not follow instructions to send money from unknown people who could be fraudsters. Instead hang up and or ignore caller.”

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