The cybercrime risk in Africa's mobile money ecosystem

A danger in mobile transactions is that private information is usually public, exposing users to cybercrime.

If mobile phone numbers in Africa are equal to credit card numbers in North America, then mobile money users could be more exposed to cyber and digital crimes than ever thought before. The introduction of transactions between mobile money and bank accounts has seen Kenyans offered seamless service but also opened up a doorway for cyber criminals to swindle millions from unsuspecting customers.

Stanley Wanjiku’s story is one of the ever increasing incidences of theft through the mobile banking services in Kenya. In an elaborate scheme, fraudsters got his confidential information and wiped his accounts clean using a method called SIM swap. This scheme used by cyber thieves is aimed at changing ownership of the mobile SIM card which is used in registering for mobile banking services. Wanjiku lost a total of Kshs 1.9 million (US$ 19,000) from his mobile money and bank account within 48 hours.

One way is that fraudsters pretend to be from the telecom company, asks the owner to confirm their private details. Once this is achieved, the thieves go ahead to initiate withdrawal transactions. The thieves in this case were apprehended by the police.

Wanjiku’s story is not isolated as more Kenyans go online to complain about their cash being wiped out of their mobile money and bank accounts.

Kenya’s mobile money ecosystem generates over US$ 18 billion worth of transactions according to the latest Communications Authority of Kenya. According to a GSMA report, The Mobile Economy Sub-Saharan Africa 2018, Africa has over 135 mobile money services in over 39 countries.

Even with these positive results of a budding ecosystem, there is so much to be done to secure customer data from fraudsters who would engineer cyber theft through easily accessible customer information.


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