Rwanda's growing online shoppers fall prey to smart Internet fraudsters

Jean marie wanted to buy a genuine Sony video camera at an affordable price, but could not get it on the market. "A friend advised me to order for it online. I did exactly that and even called the 'supplier' after paying to confirm whether they had received the money because I wanted to avoid delays as I needed the camera urgently," he says. However, Jean Marie says it is now eight months since then, and the supposed supplier has blocked all known contacts.
Many people have lost millions of francs to fraudsters online. (Net photo)
Many people have lost millions of francs to fraudsters online. (Net photo)

Jean marie wanted to buy a genuine Sony video camera at an affordable price, but could not get it on the market.

“A friend advised me to order for it online. I did exactly that and even called the ‘supplier’ after paying to confirm whether they had received the money because I wanted to avoid delays as I needed the camera urgently,” he says. However, Jean Marie says it is now eight months since then, and the supposed supplier has blocked all known contacts.

Jean Marie is one of the hundreds (if not thousands) of people who fall prey to fraudsters on the Internet, who pose as genuine sellers but disappear the moment you wire money to them.

In fact, many people have lost millions of francs to fraudsters online. This situation has prompted Police to strengthen its capacities to track and apprehend such criminals, who it says are on the increase.

The National Police of Rwanda is advising business people to be on the lookout against hackers and not to pay dealers online before ascertaining their credentials. The police say e-commerce is a great tool for business that benefits the economy, but can also lead to loss of money to fraudsters.

Security and safety concerns of e-commerce

Police told Business Times that since 2010 several cases of electronic business fraud have been reported in Rwanda.

Sources at the Police unit charged with anti-Internet fraud say a businesswoman was defrauded of millions of francs by hackers when she was trying to order for tiles from Egypt.

“The fraudsters told her that the company had relocated to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, and gave her another bank account. She sent the money but never heard from them after...she came to us for help and we are still handling the case,” the source said, adding that fraudsters use sophisticated equipment and flowery language to ensnare their victims.

He added that a businessman ordered for road equipment from China, but during the process his communication with the company was hacked and he wired money to the Bank of Beijing instead of Bank of Hong Kong. The businessman lost huge sums of money, too.

Police say the fraudsters target any sector, adding that a dealer in pharmaceuticals lost millions of francs a few months ago to hackers who they suspect had tapped the conversation between him and his wife on how they were planning to effect payment for new supplies.

“As police when these business people report to us we try our best to apprehend the culprits and recover the money, but we are handicapped as these people use state-of-the-art equipment, pseudonyms for emails and companies.

“Hackers track all Internet operations that people perform, steal identity and change messages. People should be cautious and meticulous about people they interact with in e-commerce and know whether they are trustworthy,” the Police reiterated.

Police advise business people and all Rwandans to always take caution whenever ordering for something online, especially if it involves thousands of dollars. “First confirm to see whether the given account to which money should be sent is the right one by calling, asking the seller to verify the account.”

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Nkurikiyimfura is optimistic the government will enhance safety of transactions in e-business sector.

Last year, the government revealed that it would invest in initiatives aimed at curtailing efforts of fraudsters and hackers, who according to reports are on the increase and especially target banks and business people.

E-commerce potential

Despite these challenges, e-business has been lauded for easing operations through making it faster, easier and more convenient.

McKinsey&Company, an American global management consulting firm, in a report published last year on the role of Internet in Africa, predicted that the e-commerce market, which is not yet fully developed will grow to $75 billion by 2025. Key drivers of this growth include consumers’ greater comfortable level with buying stuff online, broader web shopping capabilities with mobile and tablet devices, and emergence of innovative new shopping models.

According Alain Murenzi, the sales manager at Gemeya.com, one of the local online shops, e-commerce gives customers a rewarding shopping experience free from stress.

“With the physical marketplace, a customer can spend the whole day moving from shop to shop looking for a particular item, online shopping offers a customer a full list of companies making or selling different items from which a client can easily select what they want,” he says.

“A customer is given service in a more convenient way as they look through a list of products and choose which one fits their needs. There is also a variety of online shopping websites at their disposal,” he adds.

E-commerce is also relatively cheaper given its flexibility to be run without transport costs.

Mupenzi Byiringiro, says he bought a Nokia Lumia 820 phone online at Rwf200,000, which was quoted at Rwf300,000 in electronic shops in Kigali

So far, Rwanda has seven online markets, Gemeya.com, Kaymu.com, Gurisha.com, Shop4rwanda.com, Comfort Rwanda.com , BeautyofRwanda.com and Hellofood.rw.

Buying online

Murenzi says one has to first sign in to buy a product online. “Find the items you wish to buy, and drop them in shopping cart, check out, select your shipping address, as well as the shipping options, select payment mode and confirm your order,” he explains.

Payments are made through various modalities, including cash-on delivery, using Moneygram or Western Union money transfer services and paying using credit cards.

Murenzi says the commonly used payment modality for items bought from local online markets is cash-on delivery and using mobile money services.

Selling a product online

To upload a product or service for sale, one needs to register by going to the link “post product/service” on the homepage.

They then fill the form, upload the item’s pictures (if you have any), describe your product as best as you can, mentioning its advantages and low side, Murenzi explains.

He adds that the seller is required to provide both shipping and payment method of their choice, review their form for any mistakes or typos and submit the form when ready.

Enhancing ICT access to boost e-commerce

Didier Nkurikiyimfura, the director general for ICT at the Ministry of ICT and Youth, says as of August this year, 25 per cent of Rwandans had access to the Internet. Mobile phone subscribers were about 7.5 million during the same period.

He notes that the number of people accessing the Internet is still low because most Rwandans have no computers, while others cannot afford smartphones. 

He says with 4G LTE Internet connection in Rwanda that is supposed to be officially launched this month more people will be able to access to Internet.

“4G Internet connection will avail 95 per cent of Rwandans with secure and fast broadband in three years,” he says, adding that the ministry is planning to give people phones that have Internet application that they can pay later in installments to deepen penetration levels.

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