A distressing call comes from someone posing as a Good Samaritan claiming your child had a horrible accident, and if they are successful, a panicked recipient will send cash to ‘save’ their child’s life
Betty Muindi @BettyMuindi
Leah Kimani was driving with a friend to supervise a company project out of town when she got a terrifying call from a number she did not recognise. “Are you Leah Wangare?
I am teacher Boniface, your daughter just fell from the first floor in school while playing. We are in an ambulance, on our way to hospital, her knee joint and hand are seriously injured,” said a voice on the other end of the line amidst loud ambulance sirens. Completely on panic mode and about 20 kilometres out of town, she parked the car on the side of the road and frantically called the strange number.
The man quickly got on the line and said they had just arrived in hospital. That her 10-year-old daughter, Tamia, was bleeding so much and the doctors were demanding Sh20,000 before they could give any attention to her. In the middle of nowhere, with no money on her phone, she decided to ring her daughter’s school director to help her offset the bill before she could get to the nearest bank.
Tamia, it turns out, was safe and in class. Leah breathed a sigh of relief after about one harrowing hour of responding to the anonymous man’s demands! She admits, had she any money on her phone, she would have sent it without hesitation. Her daughter’s school admitted that they had experienced such incidents before. Leah is just one among many victims of a con game that has been doing rounds in the country.
Parents and guardians are being duped by con men using the guise that their children have been involved in one or another accident and have been taken to hospital in critical condition and require money to pay for medical procedures such as X-ray, MRI, CT scan or theatre.
Francis Mwaura, head teacher, Grandview Academy, Nairobi, says in October, last year, a parent called him in panic mode, enquiring about her son who reportedly had been admitted in critical condition to a nearby hospital, “I was shocked because I had been in that particular boy’s class just a few minutes earlier. Thinking my mind was playing tricks on me, I went to the boy’s class, to find him doing okay.
Too bad, the parent had already lost Sh15,000 to the scammers,” he adds. The mother fell victim to a scam that psychologists call, the Confidence Game, a sophisticated mind game where fraudsters manipulate one’s emotion to their financial gain.
“Their game is well-thoughtout, they know which button’s to press to get you to dig into your pocket. They know that a parent can do anything to save their child’s life and it is during such times of emotional vulnerability that they will strike,” says Arthur Muriuki, a consultant psychologist at Brain Initiative.
He says conmen use the ‘time principle’ to persuade their victims to act quickly before rational thought and self-control can kick in. “It is a tactic to increase pressure by creating a false sense of urgency and keep the victim on the phone as long as possible so that they don’t get time to think or investigate,” he explains.
They use snippets of information about you that they have gathered from different sources such as social media and other sources including friends, relatives or even employees such as the housegirl. This helps them to sound like they know what they are talking about.
They remain patient as they continue to build up layers of seeming authenticity until you’re convinced they’re legitimate and you let down your guard. In order to protect yourself from being taken advantage of, Muriuki notes it is important to stay calm, gather your thoughts in order to take rational steps forward.
“Call your child’s school or caretaker as the first thing in order to establish their whereabouts. It is also important to note that most hospitals, more so public hospitals, don’t charge for emergency medical services upfront. So, if they require funds for a medical procedure, ignore them,” he advises.