Do you often withdraw large sums of money from your bank over the counter? Beware; you may soon be “under arrest.”
And not because you have committed any crime.
A criminal gang posing as police officers may be waiting to handcuff you, throw you into their car and take your cash plus whatever else that can be stolen through your ATM cards.
A man in police uniform may approach you with handcuffs, alleging that you have committed a certain crime.
Before you know it, you are lying face-down in a car, being driven to God-knows-where.
You’ll later be forced to produce the PIN number to your ATM card and you’ll be milked dry.
That kind of robbery has been staged at least seven times recently in various parts of Kenya.
The most recent incident happened in Siaya County on Tuesday this week when Caren Otieno withdrew Sh215,000 from two banks in Luanda, Vihiga County, for her business.
After some shopping in Luanda, she took a matatu to her home in Mutumbu, 22 kilometres away.
“I alighted exactly at the place where my hardware is so I could off-load the chicken feed I had bought with ease.
A few minutes after I alighted, a white saloon car stopped a few metres outside my shop.
“I had already gone in and they sent one of my workers to fetch me.
I obeyed. Soon a uniformed officer came out and said their boss in the car needed to talk to me.
I hesitated. Then he told me that I was under arrest for selling drugs.
“I was still hesitant, so he started dragging me into the car. I screamed.
I also noticed that the car boot had been opened.
On realising a crowd was gathering and that they couldn’t easily drag me into the car, they snatched my bag and drove off,” Mrs Otieno said.
She lost all the money.
Three weeks earlier, Mr Peter Tiang’a had been approached the same way, and he was unlucky enough to be thrown into the car.
It was on December 31, 2013 and he had withdrawn Sh106,000 from a bank in Luanda for his construction project.
“Home is not far from the bank, so I went back on foot. While on the last stretch of a murram road before reaching home, a saloon car sped past me. One or two of the people inside waved at me and I waved back.
“To my shock, the car made a U-turn a few steps ahead of me.
Then a man in police uniform came out and said I was the man they had been looking for.
“Things happened in quick succession and after a long drive on the floor of the car, I was bundled but only after I had surrendered my ATM card plus the PIN ,” Tiang’a said.
Mr Tianga’s ordeal was similar to what a Standard Media Group editor went through in July last year.
Mr Amos Kareithi was robbed of Sh75,000 cash while Sh20,000 was withdrawn from an ATM in Nairobi.
Such incidents were so common in Mombasa in 2012 that the then Coast Provincial criminal investigations officer Ambrose Munyasia accused bank employees of colluding with criminals.
Similar cases were reported in Nakuru in December last year.
Police boss Bernard Kioko said they had received five cases of people dressed like policemen pouncing on those who had withdrawn substantial amounts of money over the counter.
Speaking to Saturday Nation on Thursday, Vihiga County Commissioner Boaz Cherotich said such robberies had become the norm in the area.
“We are told that when somebody withdraws Sh5,000 or thereabouts, nobody steals from them.
But when a higher amount like Sh400,000 is withdrawn, the customer is attacked on the way and his money taken away.
These are over the counter withdrawals,” he said.
The county commissioner said a security meeting would be called to discuss the matter adding that he would also consider meeting with the bankers.
Police on Tuesday said they had arrested two men believed to have been in the gang that stole from Mrs Otieno.
Khwisero police boss Joseph Arasa said one of those arrested was a former police officer.
The gang mostly uses a white saloon car with tinted windows and that it usually has a leader who commands the rest of the team.
Some of the gang members are said to be former police officers who know how to intimidate a victim to surrender, are capable of striking anywhere in Kenya and know how to conceal their faces while using ATM machines using their victims cards.
Mr Tiang’a said the robbers recently used a machine in Mbale town to withdraw Sh5,000 but, strangely, the machine didn’t capture a face.
The Kenya Commercial Bank, one of the banks whose ATMs have been used in the crime, said suspected fraudsters were arrested Friday.
“The report with the police is that on January 16 around Mbale Branch three suspects tried to steal from a customer as they were entering the branch and they were arrested.
The matter is with the police under investigation,” said Ms Judith Odhiambo, the acting director of corporate and regulatory affairs.