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Killer deals: When dead PCEA pastor stole Sh2.8 million from dead businessman!

Rev Peter Kania withdrew Sh3 million after his death and four months later his deactivated cell phone cleaned three bank accounts dry

Death-preneurs: The late Rev Peter Kariuki Kania who withdrew money even before he was taken to the morgue. Criminals specializing in ‘tombstone theft’ seem to have insiders in major hospitals where a sickly worthy- with one foot in the grave- is fighting for dear life at the ICU. How else were withdrawals from Rev Kania’s accounts hours after his death? 

By Pascal Owade

Contributing Editor/Crime

It was the bizarre case of a pastor whose accounts lost Sh3 million before he was buried and his cell phone number used to steal  Sh2.8 million from the accounts of a dead businessman.

The late PCEA Rev Peter Kariuki Kania died in July last year at the Nairobi Hospital, the effects of ‘Miss Rona’. Shortly, his accounts were cleaned before and during funeral arrangements besides the crooks applying for a Sh500, 000 mobile loan. His wife, Nelius Wanjiru Kania, only discovered the withdrawals two weeks after Kania’s burial at the Church of the Torch, Thogoto in Kikuyu, Kiambu County.

Four months later in November 2020, businessman Amos Ngata Muiruri succumbed to a botched surgery. He was buried in Nyandarua County, and a week later, Rev Kania’s cell phone was  used to withdraw Sh2.8 million from his three bank accounts via mobile applications. Ngatia was a loaded businessman while Rev Kania was Secretary General of PCEA. Perfect targets as fraudsters are targeting the prominent and wealthy.

A criminal enterprise of identity theft to rob the dead

Cleverest men in the room: Eutycus Mutembei and Eugene Shivachi at the Milimani Commercial court over stealing from the dead through SIM card swap fraud. They were accused alongside two others on 13 counts of fraud including using the cell phone numbers of the late Rev Peter Kania to transfer funds from the late businessman Amos Ngata Muiruri. They denied the charges and were released on bond varying from Sh200, 000 to Sh1 million.

The Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) arrested some suspects; a former Equity banker and IT guru who specialized in mobile banking and a clerk at the Registrar of Persons. These crooks rope insiders from banks in a criminal enterprise of identity theft to rob the dead. That some telecos have self-care services where subscribers renew SIM cards without physical appearances, only make the work of identity thieves easier.

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These new crooks are exploiting the Kenyan culture of switching off a loved one’s phone after ‘biting cotton.’ Bad idea if the dear departed was filthy rich-which crooks can judge from size of obituary, titles, employer, the five star hospital and morgue where the stiff is. The victim is even a better candidate if the kids and siblings are coming from abroad: funeral will be delayed.

These new crooks are exploiting the Kenyan culture of switching off a loved one’s phone after death

Grave transactions: Rev Peter Kania’s burial in Thogoto, Kikuyu. His cell phone number was withdrawing millions from other dead people in November 2020. four months after his burial. The identity theft trend to rob the dead is such that as the family mourns, these new criminals withdraw mobile money, bank accounts besides applying for mobile bank loans. They also attend burial arrangements for any red flags on their activities.

Kenyans parade all these information in the dailies alongside full names of the deceased, date of birth and venues for burial arrangements in the obituaries. This info-which some crooks get from funeral homes while posing as relatives- is godsent.  

Indeed, all the fraudsters need is the deceased’s cell phone number-some of which are listed on online CVs, workplace and personal websites. For a prominent, reclusive Kenyan, criminals access their numbers by hacking into phones of friends, family or relatives in funeral meeting venues with open Wi-Fi.

Armed with the cell phone number, these local fraudsters then engage in ‘identity breeding’

Businessman Amos Ngata Muiruri’s bank accounts were cleaned of Sh2.8 million using the cell phone of Rev Peter Kania. Identity theft for robbing the dead has also roped in bank tellers who comb the obituary pages to see whether clients who had applied for new ATM cards had died before picking them. 

Armed with the cell phone number, these fraudsters then engage in ‘identity breeding’ basically getting the PIN-which they get using insiders at the Registrar of Persons for access to a victim’s ID card number, addresses and date of birth-which they use to request for a new line pretending the old one got lost.  If the victim used date of birth or last ID card digits-which most Kenyans use passwords-then the crooks are game!

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This crime trend points to the dangers of living digital lives dominated by passwords: cell phone, mobile money and bank account, CDS and Unit Trust accounts, lap tops, iPads, tablets and social media handles-are now becoming ‘active crime scenes’ from third parties accessing passwords and leaving a baffled bereaving family at the losing end. 

Kania’s wife had switched off his phone to avoid calls from those who did not know he was dead. She switched the phone on two weeks after burial. She had the password-but alas! it had been changed. Supported with a death certificate and affidavit, she made inquiries from the mobile subscriber which revealed the number was actively being used to make mobile withdrawals. 

One customer requested for a new ATM card one Friday. Then bank teller saw his obituary the following week

Sister Act: Identity theft to rob the dead has crossed over to relative. Take the case of Veronica Nthege (above). In June last year, the 35 year old was arraigned at the Makadara Law Courts and charged with theft and impersonation after using her dead sister’s ID card to transfer Sh194, 000 to different accounts from a mobile money transfer shop in Eastleigh. She pleaded not guilty and was released on a Sh50, 000 bail.

This calls for increased use of finger print and facial recognition- to minimize ‘tombstone theft’-who’s other culprits are bank tellers.

One customer requested for a new ATM card one Friday. The card comes with a PIN-which the customer is requested to change. Then the teller, who was keeping the ATM card awaiting collection, saw his obituary in the dailies the following week!

In yet another case, a teller opened an account for a British national containing Sh70 million. His obituary appeared online before he had collected his ATM card. Only the teller and the deceased were privy to the goings on. The teller was apprehended for among others; not withdrawing from his account for a year, driving a Beamer without taking a loan, moving houses to Loresho from Eastlands, having his lunch at The Norfolk and dressing in more expensive suits than the CEO-all without salary increment or winning the lottery!

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