Lingadzi Police arrest TNM employee; mobile money agent and 2 ex-convicts suspected of defrauding millions from people by hacking phones 

Lingadzi Police have arrested four people — one a TNM employee based at Zomba branch; another a TNM Mpamba & Airtel Money agent plus two ex-convicts — suspected to have been hacking various people’s mobile phones and defrauded them millions of kwachas from their bank accounts.

This follows a recent complainant lodged by two people — renowned journalist Joan Chakhaza of Zodiak Broadcasting Station and Edwin Maluwa of World Health Organisation (WHO) — who reported on November 21 and 24, 2022 that their phone numbers were hacked and the fraudsters managed to transfer over K3 million from their National and Standard banks accounts respectively.

Lingadzi Police indicate that there had been various cases reported in different stations nationwide throughout the year and after these two complaints, the station’s CID section “assigned its three skilled detectives who invaded Zomba City to investigate, uncover and end the malpractice of sim swap and theft of money in various bank accounts nationwide”.

The suspects; Sungani is a TNM and Airtel Money agent

“The team made a follow up of the reported cases and in the process has managed to arrest the following suspects for being responsible of the syndicate:

1. Wane Simbeye, aged 28, Village Dakalinali, T/A Mbewe of Karonga District — an employee of TNM based at Zomba branch;

2. Peter Sungani, aged 32, Village Namisempha, T/A Mwambo, Dedza District — a TNM Mpamba & Airtel Money agent;

3. Aaryan Nkupu, aged 23, Village Germany T/A Chikowi in Zomba District — ex-convict; and

4. Nowel Swalley, aged 22, Nkanda Village, T/A Chikowi in Zomba — ex-convict

Lingadzi Police indicate that the two ex-convicts were the masterminds of the syndicate who were found with both sim registration and sim swap applications which were being used for this illegal activities.

“Upon being interrogated, they all admitted to be the ones responsible for the theft of above reported cases and many more through sim swap fraud.

“Their phones were confiscated and they all matched with the ones in relation to above reported cases and others reported in different stations across the country.

“Currently, investigations are still in progress to recover the stolen money and arrest other suspects in the same system,” says the report with reference number// LG/CR/145/11/2022 and LG/CR/163/11/2022.

While applauding the swift response and job well done by Lingadzi Police, Mwakoma Gondwe wrote on Facebook: “I should ascertain that the police hasn’t been moved because the case victimised persons with names in society.

“Many who have previously been victimised, but came from the remotest villages, found it hard to get justice. Others haven’t been assisted to date. Can assistance be rendered indiscriminately without looking at somebody’s status in society for now and in future?”

On the commemoration of World Consumer Consumer Rights Day on March 15, Malawi Communications & Regulatory Authority (MACRA) announced that it was establishing a digital forensic laboratory with the Malawi Police to counter mobile money fraud.

It includes the registration of every SIM card through the National Identity as well as having its intended phone handset be registered.

The theme of this year’s Consumer Rights Day was ‘Fair Digital Finance’ — which was coined in cognizance of the changing landscape in the marketplace brought about by technological advance — which brought with it a proliferation in the cases of cybercrime, especially mobile money fraud, more recently due to the CoVID-19 pandemic which saw an increase in the usage of ICTs.

At a press conference, MACRA Director General, Daud Suleman had said: “As a regulatory body, MACRA remains unrelenting and committed to developing systems and frameworks that make the digital space safe for all consumers.”

Thus, as mandated by the Eletronic Transactions and Cybersecurity Act, 2016 and the Communications Act, 2016, Suleman announced the measures to counter the mobile money fraud that also include enhancement of mandatory SIM card registration; development of SIM card registration regulations and Central Identification Register Regulations.

MACRA was also to develop some cyber security rules and regulations as well as formulating a mobile money task force with the Malawi Police Service, National Registration Bureau, mobile network operators and Malawi Prisons.

Malawi Prisons has been specifically included because the majority of the money fraud is being perpetrated by prisoners — with the suspicions of a collaboration with prison wardens — who facilitate multiple SIM cards for the inmates which are used through one handset.

Suleman also said MACRA will strengthen activation and enforcement of the law regarding online abuse as well as scaling up capacity building and awareness of the law.

There will also be “appropriate allocation of resources towards the implementation of the law that provides online protection, including training law enforcement officials and strengthening of justice justice institutions to manage and handle reported online abuse cases; tracking mechanisms, investigations and prosecution of online abuses”.

He also announced that MACRA was in the process of setting up a toll-free call centre where the public shall channel their complaints of all online abuses that include mobile money fraud as well as complaints against broadcasters; defamation; spreading of fake news; sharing of pornographic materials and many other online abuses.

A day before the World Consumer Consumer Rights Day, Consumer Association of Malawi (CAMA) issued a statement imploring on the government that — while the digital financial platforms are assisting consumers with affordable and easily accessible financial technologies — they also came with negative implications through fraudulent practices.

“We have noted increases in fraud on both mobile money and other digital financial platforms and it requires consumers to be equipped with knowledge on how to avoid such negative transactions,” said the statement from CAMA Executive Director, John Kapito.

“We are therefore appealing to Government to put in place strong regulatory systems in order to ensure that only genuine traceable business transactions are done online and with reputable institutions in order to allow the growth of these new digital financial technologies that have potential to increase financial inclusion in the country.”

The measures taken by MACRA answered CAMA’s concerns, which Kapito had said consumers needed to “appreciate and understand these digital financial platforms while at the same time understand their implications and challenges”.

MACRA also agreed with CAMA’s observation that the mobile money services are hugely benefiting consumers in sending and receiving money locally and internationally as well as cashless local and international purchases.

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