April 12, 2016

THE SEAT-BELT SCAM

“It was a slow day in the office, one of those hot and sleepy afternoons where the only inspiration to get back to the office after lunch is your boss […]

THE SEAT-BELT SCAM

“It was a slow day in the office, one of those hot and sleepy afternoons where the only inspiration to get back to the office after lunch is your boss who sits two offices down the corridor. She likes to pop in your office just to ask random questions like:

“How come my WhatsApp is not loading?”

“Did you remember to activate Mobile Data on your phone?”

“Oh.”

It’s one of those struggles of working in I.T you see. Fortunately that day my boss had a late-afternoon meeting outside the office so she left early. As soon as I saw her car going beyond the gate I exited stage left. Our offices are in Upper Hill, so I boarded a matatu at Community to get me to town. I had barely taken my seat next to a window when six young men, loud and boisterous, boarded behind me. One of them sat next to me, he seemed a pretty cool guy. With the traffic in Nairobi being what it is, it takes a while before we get to town. Just before we get to town the guy seated next to me, kind as he is, tells me:

“Take care of your phone, put it in your pocket.”

My phone was barely a month old, a Blackberry Z10, so new I hadn’t removed its protective cover yet. The box the phone came in was the first thing you saw on my dresser when you walked in my house. Loud and proud! So I thanked the man, and obliged. We got to the Kenyatta Avenue roundabout then one of the six men shouts frantically:

“Seatbelts, karao wanaangalia kama tumevaa seatbelts!” (The Police are checking whether we have worn seatbelts).

Everyone dived under their seats looking for their seatbelts, which looked like they hadn’t been worn since Arsenal last won the Premier League. I thought I would contract Tetanus just by looking at it. I picked mine up from the floor and a cockroach ran out from inside the clasp itself. I slapped it on, the matatu stopped right opposite the General Post Office and all six men hurriedly shuffled off the vehicle. As the matatu is driving off and I’m left wondering where the cops were, I realized I can’t find my phone. You know that horrible, sinking feeling that starts right from the pit of your stomach and ends up somewhere around your throat? Something like when you see a spider on the wall, then two seconds later it’s gone and you wonder whether it’s crawling up your trousers?

Having to make the trip to my mobile service provider to block my now stolen line and get a new one was the most depressing thing I had ever done. Everyone I looked at seemed to be laughing at me, and those who didn’t were pitying me instead. The lump in my throat got bigger every time I thought about it…”

Peter* lost his prized mobile phone through a ruse that has been in use for a number of years now. The latest attempt of this nature noted within the Securex database happened on Sunday, 13th March 2016, where a group of five attempted to nick a woman’s handbag in a matatu heading into the Nairobi CBD. It is important to note the gang’s mode of operation, which is to board the vehicle, fan out, create a distraction, take advantage of the ensuing confusion to pickpocket, and alight as soon as possible.

Here are a few tips to help you not to fall prey to this tactic:

  1. Be on the look-out for groups of young men, usually 4-6, boarding a Public Service Vehicle at the same time.
  2. Once they rob you they will need to escape quickly before you suspect anything. Such ruses therefore will only happen as you approach a bus stop, giving them the opportunity to strike then alight before you realise that you’ve been robbed.
  3. Be vigilant when using public means to commute. If you find yourself in a vehicle where an incident like the above happens, immediately pull your bag (if you have one) close to you, or in between your legs and put your hands in your pockets. Do not get distracted unless your life is in danger.
  4. Should an incident like the above case happen, shout loudly to warn fellow passengers to guard their possessions closely. Chances are that this will put the gang off and they will abandon their mission.
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