Rwanda: Fraud Cases on the Rise as Scammers Change Tactics

25 November 2019

In July this year, Claudine Uwamahoro (not real names) received a phone call from someone, who identified himself as Innocent Bizimana, informing her that she has been selected to attend "young entrepreneurs' conference" in Qatar.

Bizimana introduced himself as an employee of the Ministry of Trade and Industry in the Department of International Trade, the alleged organisers of the conference in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

"I don't have a passport," that was Uwamahoro's immediate response to Bizimana.

"He told me to call another person called Fred Besigye at the Directorate-General of Immigration and Emigration, who was apparently tasked to facilitate all those, who were selected for the conference; I told Bizimana that I didn't have money for everything including paying for the passport but he told me that the visa and air ticket would be handled by the organizers," Uwamahoro narrated.

"He told me to send Rwf30,000 to Besigye and the rest would be topped-up by the organisers."

This raised suspicion, which prompted her to double-check with the Ministry of Trade and Industry and UNDP, the alleged organisers.

The two institutions said they did not have an employee Innocent Bizimana and neither were they organising a conference.

Uwamahoro tipped-off law enforcement organs.

Two prime suspects identified as Hammed Nkurunziza and Salomon Birikunzira were tracked down and arrested separately on August 1 and 3, respectively in Kigali.

According to investigations, the duo has been engaged in these fraudulent acts since 2014 by using different false identities.

To the victims of Nkurunziza, for example, he was known as Sam Nsangiyumva, Evode, Padiri Noel or Innocent Bizimana as he introduced himself to Uwamahoro.

Solomon Birikunzira was also guising under different names like James Matabaro and Jean Bosco Nshimiyimana.

Although Uwamahoro took bold decisions to authenticate the information, which saved her from falling prey, about 15 other people became victims of the duo, fleecing them of combined Rwf1.5 million, according to investigations.

About the suspects

Investigations indicate that in February 2016, Salomon Birikunzira was arrested and detained for fraud-related crimes.

He was released in September 2018. Nonetheless, Birikunzira learnt nothing and forgot nothing throughout his detention and rehabilitation period.

After his release, Birikunzira started from where he left; this time recruiting Hammed Nkurunziza (Innocent Bizimana) into the criminal equation.

However, the new recruit was not a stranger in the criminal arena. Nkurunziza had been released from Mageragere Prison where he had spent 18 months for related crimes.

According to Commissioner of Police (CP) John Bosco Kabera, RNP spokesperson, swindlers use different tricks to hoodwink their unsuspicious targets.

"Apparently, Birikunzira and Nkurunziza would go around hospitals collecting particulars from lost documents like Identity Cards or particulars of the deceased, which they would use to contact and dupe family members or friends," Kabera said.

He added: "They were also collecting particulars from internet cafes where some people leave their emails and files open, and in other cases they call their targets and make them believe that they have won a lottery but require them to first send a certain amount of money to complete the process; they were also targeting telecom banking agents, who are reluctant to ask and authenticate particulars of their customers."

According to statistics from Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB), a total of 446 cases of such fraudulent schemes have been recorded since the beginning of this year, involving 767 arrested suspects.

The report further shows that swindlers duped the victims of a combined Rwf715 million during the same period.

Majority of those arrested were convicted and serving varied sentences while others are still pending the judicial process, according to prosecution.

"Most of the cases involve victims, who were hoodwinked believing that they were selected to go for certain training abroad, paying for valuable minerals, SMS' and calls that you have won lottery in telecom companies or paying to win-out a lucrative contract with telecoms to erect masts in their land," Marie Michelle Umuhoza, RIB spokesperson said.

She added: "Other cases are related to crypto-currency scams; conmen, who use forged documents calling themselves employees of a certain institution and entices you to supply certain equipment, especially electronics and vehicle spare-parts; those, who cut papers in form of currency notes and cover them with genuine dollar notes targeting mainly people in banks after feigning ignorance on how and where to exchange such big sums of money, and requires you to leave behind your valuables if you accept to help."

Other tricks used include those who call parents pretending to be Good Samaritans, saying that their children were involved in an accident or sick and requires you to send money for a special-hire and other emergency services; and those, who say they are offering employment opportunities, which requires candidates to bring computer laptops and smart-phones to install a certain programme or App, which are stolen in the process.

"The public should know that these things are real... fraudsters are there, they operate in coordinated groups and employ different tricks to steal from you. They will contact you in someone else's identities or guise as well-wishers; be vigilant, don't fall victim by believing that you have won a jackpot even when you didn't compete or to deliver supplies even when you didn't win a tender," Kabera advised.

"Like Uwamahoro, people should take extra steps to verify whatever they are told, don't just believe what someone has told you because these criminals will first take time to study you, know your weaknesses and use them against you. Always reach out to institutions or alleged service providers or call law enforcement agencies," says Umuhoza.

What the law says

Clause One of article 174 of the law determining offences and penalties in general in Rwanda, defines fraud as deception, obtaining another person's property, whole or part of his/her finance by use of false names or qualifications, or offering positive promises or threats of future misfortunes.

Clause Two of the same article provides a term of imprisonment of between two and three years, and a fine of not less than Rwf3 million but not more than Rwf5 million, upon conviction.

In clause Three, if the offence is committed by a person, who intends to issue shares, shareholders' bills, securities, bonds, vouchers or any other cash value, either for a business, trading company or industry, the applicable penalty is an imprisonment for a term of not less than three years and not more than five years with a fine of Rwf5 million to Rwf7 million.

The general public is advised to call Rwanda National Police (RNP) and Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) on anyone they suspect to be engaged in these fraudulent schemes on; 112 (RNP), 166 (RIB), 0788311152, 0788311829 and other contacts for law enforcement organs in their areas.

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