Kenya’s Fraud Car Dealers!!! - 1

Hundreds of Kenyans are losing millions of shillings to con artists passing themselves off as car dealers.

Investigations by the Sunday Nation show that the conmen, through a well-planned scheme sometimes involving advertisements in daily newspapers, are taking full advantage of Kenyans’ penchant for short-cuts in conducting business transactions.

With the traditional carjacking method getting ever more dangerous, conmen are evolving new tactics of stealing from potential car buyers, leaving law enforcers to play catch-up with their new tricks.

“These are not your typical gun-toting, bhang-smoking thieves,” said Mr Munga Nyale, the head of Flying Squad, the police unit in charge of fighting serious armed robberies and motor vehicle theft.

The conmen’s stock-in-trade is simple yet highly effective: a phone, a well furnished office, cutting of newspaper classified adverts and a large dose of courage to go through with the process.Often clad in expensive suits, and driving sleek cars, the conmen are exploiting Kenyans’ ignorance or outright disregard for the right procedures in car sale transactions.

Mr Timothy Njoroge Mwaura’s story could easily be the experience of thousands of Kenyans who have fallen prey to the smooth-talking con artists.

On the afternoon of August 26, 2010, as the country prepared for the promulgation of the new Constitution the next day, Mr Mwaura was meeting a potential buyer of his Toyota Probox at a hotel in Mlolongo, Athi River.The previous day he had received a call from a potential buyer from Nanyuki.

This was after he advertised his car in the classifieds section of a local daily. The woman he met did not betray any suspicion of being wayward.“She was beautiful, very polished and carried an expensive handbag. She told me she was a businesswoman and I concluded that she must have been a successful one,” Mr Mwaura said.

Little did he know that the executive appearance was a mask for a master con who had probably honed her skills by defrauding tens of other victims.They had chosen Mlolongo as their meeting place because it was close to his place of work. What transpired next would sound comical were it not for the dire consequences that followed.

After going through the routine checks of the engine, the tyres and so forth, the woman requested to test drive the car. First, she drove the car a short distance and stopped.

In retrospect, Mr Mwaura reckons he would have easily avoided the heartbreak that was to follow had he followed his intuition. “I realised she was very tense, but I did not think much of it then,” he said.

She then switched off the engine, went round it to conduct more checks, and then got back on the wheels. This time she drove outside the hotel compound.

“I signalled her to stop so we could go for the test together but she said she was not going far,” he remembers. After about 50 metres, she stopped briefly before resuming her test.

Test drives

Thinking back Mr Mwaura said the “little” halting test drives were meant to check whether the car had any alarm systems. Well, unfortunately for him and fortunately for her, it did not.

“She was well out of sight when I called her and she told me she was looking for a convenient spot to turn.” After 15 minutes he called
her again and she said she had been arrested by police for driving without a licence.

“That is when it dawned on me that I might be in trouble.” Mr Mwaura rushed to Mlolongo police station but could not get immediate help. He called the woman one more time and this time the phone was off. He had lost his car in broad daylight.

His hopes sank even lower after he realised he had left the log book in an envelope on the back seat. Thoroughly depressed, he reported the theft at the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), a move that was to prove critical in his vehicle’s recovery a year later.

Mr Mwaura is just one of the victims of the many new “safe” methods car thieves are using these days. In April police issued a public alert for the leader of a six-man gang that had stolen tens of cars from the public in a similar manner.

John Ndorongo Kamua is wanted in relation to at least 15 complaints filed against him by car dealers whose cars he is said to have sold without their consent in Nairobi and Mombasa.

According to police, the man has been luring buyers by placing advertisements in local dailies inviting vehicle owners to lease cars to his organisation for at least Sh55,000 a month. He later prepared fake documents and sold the cars.

Toyota saloons are the major targets for a number of reasons. One, they are easy to dispose of due to high demand. The large number of vehicles of the same make and colour also makes them difficult to trace once stolen.

Most of the small cars, especially the Probox and Succeed types, are mainly sold upcountry where demand is high, since they can easily be converted to serve multiple purposes, including being turned into matatus, according to Mr Nyale.

For Mr Shem Orenge, the director of Sabeen Motor Bazaar in Kilimani, Mr Mwaura’s story was almost routine. “We are used to these incidents now,” he said when he heard the story.

In his nearly seven years in business, Mr Orenge has had to comfort several would-be customers whose dreams of owning a car have been crudely wrecked by con artists who have purported to sell them cars in his bazaar.

Indeed the bazaars are popular targets for the conmen. Whenever they visit, their aim is twofold: to get the car details, such as the number plate, and its selling price.

With that information, they proceed to KRA where a routine search gives them details contained in the original logbook. They then prepare a fake logbook and advertise the sale in the newspapers.

They wait for the calls to come in from would-be buyers and once they identify a promising one, they normally offer a substantially lower price than the one being asked at the bazaar.

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