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Kenyans in US fall prey to credit card swindle

BUSINESS
By | December 23rd 2010

By Chris Wamalwa in Philadelphia, USA

Some Kenyans living abroad planning to travel home for Christmas are the latest victims of a credit card fraudsters.

The scandal, which involves the purchase of air tickets from a ‘travel agent’ in Kenya apparently paid for by credit cards stolen in the US, could reinforce the perception Kenya is a hub of international crimes.

It also comes at a time several Kenyans are serving prison sentences in the US over tax evasions and credit card frauds.

A Mr Eric Omollo, whose mobile phone contact is shown by some of those he has conned, is advertised abroad as offering the cheapest airline tickets.

Even though he has no physical contacts, it is believed that thousands of people have used his services.

"He doesn’t have an office or a web site. You call him on his cell phone and give him the dates you propose to travel. He tells you the amount for a return ticket, which usually ranges between $1,000 (about Sh80,000) and $1,300 (about Sh104,000). Once you agree, he asks you to wire $300 via Western Union. The rest, he tells you, you will pay as soon as you land at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. As soon as you wire the money, he will e-mail you the e-tickets, fully paid for," said Morin Kisia, a Kenyan living in Upper Derby, Pennsylvania.

Checked out

Morin, who returned to the US after travelling to Kenya to attend her son’s graduation, told The Standard that immediately she checked out at JKIA, he was there waiting. Asked whether she had suspected anything, Morin, said she did.

"There were inconsistencies in the ticketing matter. I learnt later the actual price for my ticket was $2,500, but I had only paid $1,000," she said.

She added: "My card was listed as a Master Card bearing names that are not even Kenyan, with an address in Seattle. I’ve never had a Master Card since I came to the US 15 years ago."

Morin, like many other victims who live in Delaware and who spoke to The Standard, agreed that even though they suspected something was wrong, they couldn’t ‘pass on’ the deal because it was too good. "Where can you get a ticket to Kenya for between $1,000 and 1,300?" said a victim, who sought anonymity.

Expensive airline

The current reasonable price for an airline ticket to Nairobi ranges from between $2,500 and $5,000 especially on British Airways, which is one of the most expensive airlines.

Until recently when the British Airways officials at the Philadelphia International Airport noticed discrepancies in the names of the travellers’ tickets and that of the credit cards used to pay, the scandal had gone unnoticed for years.

In the recent past, scores of travellers have had to be turned away from boarding flights to Kenya because the information contained on their e-tickets from Kenya, the home contacts and the names and numbers on the credit cards purportedly used to pay for their tickets were at variance.

"Before we issue boarding passes to our passengers, it is standard procedure that we verify information contained on their tickets and travel documents like passports. It is true that of late, we have had serious issues with people travelling to Kenya especially those whose tickets originate from there," said a British Airways official at Philadelphia Airport, who requested not to be named.

Last week, more than four members of a church in Delaware who had purchased tickets as a group were turned away when they presented their tickets for processing.

Name and address

"They asked me how much I had paid for the ticket and I said $1,000. They told me the actual amount paid was $2,500 from a Discover Card bearing the names and address of somebody who lived in Oregon. I was shocked!" said a victim.

Some victims have made statements at the New Castle County Police and it is believed the officers have sought the assistance of the FBI.

It is believed Omollo, who has since disappeared into ‘thin’ air following this discovery, is part of an elaborate syndicate of international cons stealing cards and identities.

Omollo’s number and e-mail address are still listed even though he is not responding to inquiries.

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