In a recent interview, Thomas Bwaley, Manager of International Voice Services at Safaricom, shed light on a growing menace that Kenyan mobile users face—the flashing scam.
This deceptive practice, known as "flashing" in Kenyan lingo, involves terminating a call before it is picked up, enticing the recipient to call back.
Bwaley warns that this scam, often carried out through missed calls, makes Kenyans easy prey for an international fraud called "Wangiri," derived from the Japanese term for "one ring and cut."
Wangiri fraudsters engage in a widespread tactic of broadcasting missed calls to trick as many subscribers as possible into calling back.
These fraudulent calls typically originate from international numbers or unfamiliar countries, raising suspicions among recipients.
The scam is especially effective when targeting numerous individuals simultaneously, as it multiplies the chances of successful callbacks.
Flashing in Kenyan lingo is a call that is terminated before it is picked the aim is to have the person flashed to call back.
With this being the norm, Kenyans are easy prey for an international fraud known as "wangiri" which is done through missed calls.
"Wangiri itself is a Japanese word meaning one ring and cut and that is why in wangiri types of fraud you will be able to find missed calls most often you will find your phone having a missed call alert of numbers that is all the time international," Bwaley said.
The primary objective of these fraudsters is to manipulate unsuspecting subscribers into calling premium destination numbers.
These premium numbers can incur exorbitant charges, sometimes exceeding 50 to 100 shillings per minute. In certain cases, these charges can reach staggering amounts.
By triggering millions of missed calls and enticing even a fraction of those recipients to call back, fraudsters can amass substantial profits within minutes.
Once victims fall into their trap and initiate a callback, fraudsters employ various techniques to prolong the conversation.
They may play music or use persuasive language to delay suspicions and increase the likelihood of victims remaining on the line.
This prolongation allows fraudsters to maximize their fraudulent gains before victims realize they have been deceived.
Wangiri fraud is a global industry, causing an estimated annual loss of around $2 billion worldwide. Kenya, with over 65 million mobile subscriptions, is a prime target for these scams.
Safaricom, as one of the leading mobile network operators in the country, bears the brunt of these fraudulent activities.
Both customers and network operators suffer significant losses due to the airtime deducted from customers' accounts when they call these premium destination numbers.
"What they do is they don't just terminate you to you know somewhere that you can hear probably they'll put you into a music or some love words or something that will delay you a little bit to try to make sense of what they're saying so the more they lengthen your conversation trying to know whether it's a genuine call is a fraudster by the time you discover I was being defrauded you've taken a few seconds into a minute of it that's how they get revenue," Bwaley explain,
"Wangir type of fraud..the research done shows around 2 billion dollars annually lost. where we sit as Kenya today the CA (Communications Authority) quarterly reports indicates that we have over 65 million mobile subscriptions and so we are prime targets as Kenyans."
"We lose millions in terms of these callbacks that become cost Safaricom at the same time and comes you know airtime that are deducted from our customer by calling this premium destination that probably they would not have done so there's a lot of loss both the customer and to the mobile network operators in Kenya and across the globe so indeed it's a huge type of scam that is increasing by day," he added,
To combat this growing threat, Safaricom advises mobile users to refrain from calling back strange or unfamiliar numbers.
By abstaining from initiating callbacks, individuals can protect themselves from falling victim to the Wangiri fraud.
Additionally, if a particular number repeatedly engages in the flashing scam, users can report it by sending the number to 333.
This reporting mechanism helps not only block the number for subsequent call recipients but also assists in safeguarding others from potential fraud attempts.
By remaining vigilant and following Bwaley's advice, Kenyans can shield themselves from the perils of the flashing scam and contribute to the collective effort against Wangiri fraud.
Together, individuals can prevent unnecessary financial losses and help create a safer mobile communication environment in Kenya and across the globe.