What you need to know:
- This writer also engaged amazonk.e, AmazonEastAfrica, ali_expresske posing as a buyer.
- Amazonk.e referred us to a website where an interested buyer chooses the item they want to buy.
Before the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) issued a warning two weeks ago about a worrying increase in online shopping fraud, one of the numerous complaints it had received was from Nakuru resident Steven Mwangi.
The 28-year-old and his wife had lost Sh75,000 to a shady business calling itself amazonk.e, which uses social networking site Instagram as its primary tool.
Amazonk.e is among a number of questionable Instagram-based platforms that include AmazonEastAfrica, ali_expresske and aliexpress.ke, which mimic renowned shopping platforms and post about numerous products, mostly electronics, that they are apparently selling.
Our investigation of the platforms shows that they post products with lower-than-prevailing prices alongside a WhatsApp number through which they engage buyers. We posed as buyers and noted that the modus operandi is that they request for payment before delivery of goods and promise quick delivery.
Also, nothing a customer wants ever seems to lack. In the case of Mr Mwangi and his wife, they lost cash as they sought to buy a new TV set. The wife came across a post by amazonk.e, which has 91,000 followers to its name, saying they were selling an 85-inch television for Sh80,000.
This piqued her interest because the price tag was way lower than market rates of more than Sh150,000. She decided to go for it. The man behind the account told her he would transport the TV from his base in Nairobi to Nakuru that same day.
“She was told to post Sh75,000 and when the TV came, she would pay the Sh5,000 balance,” Mr Mwangi told the Sunday Nation.
The wife paid via M-Pesa and that is where the plot took a twist. Whenever she enquired about the progress of delivery, he could send her images allegedly showing movement from Nairobi, but she would later learn it was all a lie.
“He was actually picking calls very well. And he could send my wife his location details. It was a bit difficult for my wife to know the difference between a screenshot and a location pin; like she didn’t click on link apparently showing the location,” said Mr Mwangi, a businessman.
“Come 7pm, I went home and found my wife panicky. I knew we had been conned and I told her. We went to the police and reported, got an OB number, then we were referred to the DCI in Nakuru and spoke with the boss who assigned an officer,” he added.
The detective tracked the trader’s phone number.
“The first time we traced him, he was in Nakuru. The second time Kericho and the third, Kapenguria. That is when I said ‘wacha ikae’ (let it be) after detectives told me to support them by fuelling their cars,” Mr Mwangi said, noting he realised by the time they would be done, he would have spent close to the Sh80,000.
Later, Mr Mwangi decided to probe the amazonk.e trader by posing as a buyer interested in a PS5. He quickly established that the trader did not have the playStation console with him, but was trying to convince Mr Mwangi to send the money.
The DCI, in its post on December 17, warned Kenyans against a growing trend where “fraudsters mimic websites belonging to established vendors and defraud them”.
“Many shoppers have fallen victim. We therefore advise the public to take precaution while engaging in online business dealings, to avoid falling prey to online scammers and fraudsters. We further appeal to all shoppers to shop from trusted online vendors,” they added.
This writer also engaged amazonk.e, AmazonEastAfrica, ali_expresske posing as a buyer. Amazonk.e referred us to a website where an interested buyer chooses the item they want to buy.
The buyer is then asked to enter their location details before payment.
“You are requested to make your payments via our AMAZON bank paybill number then you will have to provide your full delivery details,” they said on WhatsApp.
Then I introduced myself as a reporter not interested in buying but seeking a response on whether their business was conning Kenyans. The prompt response suddenly stopped, and it has gone unanswered since December 19.
AmazonEastAfrica were also eager to sell us Sh37,000 television set. Then I introduced myself and asked them why they are using Amazon’s brand and whether they are conning Kenyans.
“(We mimic) just to get clients,” they wrote. “It is really working.”
We emailed Amazon last week for a comment on the fake sites but had not received an answer by the time of going to press.
AmazonEastAfrica says it serves clients in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, South Sudan and Burundi. They ask for payment via mobile money before they deliver any item.
On whether they con their clients, the person chatting via WhatsApp vowed that they have never failed any client.
Our chat with ali_expresske went pretty much the same as amazonk.e: An enthusiastic person on the other end of WhatsApp was eager to sell us a PS4 but when we introduced ourselves and asked them why they were imitating Ali Express and whether they had conned anyone, the responses came to a halt.
After the DCI posted about the online shopping con, a number of people replied to share their own experiences of loss.
Benedict wrote: “They (name withheld) should be investigated. I engaged them and the person was very suspicious when I insisted I pay on delivery or I visit the offices to pay. The person refused both and that was just a red flag for me.”
From the comments to the DCI post, the overriding theme was that police are often reluctant to help victims of such fraud until the complainant gave them money.