Isiolo town and its outskirts are slowly becoming a breeding ground for cons who change tack every passing day to evade arrest by law enforcers.
The growing population in the transit town is conceivably the driving factor for the menace, with criminals now using strange techniques to defraud unsuspecting citizens of their valuables and properties.
Different from the known cons who steal but do not harm victims, the new strategy is to stupefy victims and leave them in a zombie-like state where they are unable to recall the events or identify the perpetrators.
In what is believed to be a syndicate, the Scopolamine drug (also known as devil’s breath) that the criminals use is used in surgical theatres and access to it is highly restricted, meaning only medics at local hospitals or students taking health courses could be providing it to the cons.
The chemical can be blown into one’s face, soaked into a document or item or applied on the body to incapacitate someone.
Dozens of people, mostly those in business, have reported being robbed even though security officials insist most of the cases are brought to their attention.
A trader in Poolman, Bulapesa ward, where several people have reportedly been robbed, was a week ago defrauded of nearly all the stock, worth about Sh100,000, at her wholesale shop by two men who insisted on shaking her hands.
Her colleagues in the vicinity told the Nation that they only saw the woman loading several items into a waiting car that the pair later drove away in.
“We thought she was helping the customers pack the commodities in the car, only to later learn that they had drugged her,” one trader said.
Some general shopkeepers had days earlier been robbed in a similar way. Though they later regained their memory and discovered that some of their items were unaccounted for, they could not recall what the perpetrators looked like.
“I only recall a young man [who was smoking] asking for bread minutes past 5pm,” said a trader who unknowingly gave out Sh10,000 to a con.
Denis Mutuma (not his real name), a popular carpenter, was also recently conned by a female “client” who wanted him to renovate her house and fix doors and windows in Isiolo town.
He was swindled out of Sh30,000 in broad daylight by the same woman he thought was a client. He said the money was for purchasing materials to make sofa sets.
The two met at the Isiolo town-Muriri diversion, opposite the Jamia Mosque.
The woman, the victim said, told him that the house that he was to work on belonged to her mother and she had to wait for the keys from her.
“I just remember shaking hands with the older woman [who the client told me was her mother]. I later found myself stranded and with no single coin in my pocket,” he recalled.
A woman last weekend gave out Sh5,000 and emptied some Sh2,000 from her M-Pesa account after shaking hands with a stranger in the town.
It was later discovered that she was conned after one of her neighbours reported seeing her at an M-Pesa outlet with a man she could not recall meeting in town.
“She was to do some shopping for her daughter but was swindled out of the money,” a friend of the victim claimed.
Most of the perpetrators, sources said, are bhang smokers as “they are not affected by the drug”, though we did not find a medical explanation for it.
Scopolamine is a tropane alkaloid and anticholinergic drug used as medication for treating motion sickness and postoperative nausea and vomiting. It is sometimes used before surgery to decrease saliva.
An overdose of the compound leads to blurred vision, confusion, hallucinations, restlessness, lack of free will and sleepiness, among other side effects.
Residents have appealed to security agencies to find and arrest the criminals.
“Let them quickly address the issue because the cases are on the rise,” Douglas Musyoka said.
County Commissioner Geoffrey Omoding was said to have ordered a crackdown on the criminals, who have left many families counting losses and impoverished amid harsh economic times.
Mr Omoding told the Nation that security agents were pursuing the group, divulging no more information.
He urged residents to be vigilant and shun shaking hands with strangers as they could fall prey.
“We have a team investigating the complaints with the aim of arresting the culprits,” he said.
If a stranger hands you something, think twice about grabbing it as you might become the next victim.