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Be careful when you buy mobile phones

By Kethi Kilonzo | October 5th 2014

VGA was 19 years old. She was a cashier in a supermarket. She lived with her parents. One day she left work at 6 pm, as she did every day, and walked towards her parents’ home. She usually got home by 7 pm. When it got to 8.30 pm and she hadn’t arrived her family got worried. They tried to contact her but her mobile phone was switched of. Her father left the house to go look for her. He never found her. She never reached home that night. Or any other night.

Her body was found the next day. She had been physically assaulted, raped and murdered. Her face had two deep wounds. Her clothes were torn. She had injuries on her knees, ankles and private parts. Her Nokia 3310 phone, Kencell SIM card and other personal items were missing.

The police obtained from Safaricom and Kencell computer print outs of the incoming and outgoing calls from her number. They also identified the serial number of her phone and SIM card. Using these serial numbers they established the dates and places when the phone was used after her death. The records from Safaricom and Kencell showed every time any SIM Card was installed on the phone and when it was removed. The police also uncovered the names of the persons registered under these SIM cards.

These records enabled the police to make the first arrest. The stolen phone was used for the first time the day the body of the young girl was discovered. It was used by a man who was arrested by the police within one kilometre of the location where the body was found.

This man led the police to his home where they found his wife with a Nokia 3310 phone. When the phone was activated, the name of the young girl was displayed on the screen. He had given his wife the phone. He told the police he had bought it for Sh2,000. He was placed under custody and took the police to the man he said he had bought the phone from.

This led to the second arrest. The second man told the police that he had bought the phone for Sh2,000 from a chang’aa den on the day the young girl was last seen. He led the police to the location of the discarded SIM card. It was about 400 metres from where her body was found.

The two men were charged in court for the double crimes of rape and murder. They were convicted by the High Court. They appealed to the Court of Appeal. Their appeals were dismissed. There was no physical evidence connecting the two men to the rape and murder. But, both courts were not satisfied with the explanations they gave for handling and keeping the young girl’s phone so soon after her brutal physical assault, rape and murder.

Mobile phone and SIM cards have unique serial numbers and leave a trail of electronic footprints whenever they are activated. The police frequently use this electronic trail of evidence to investigate crimes, particular violent crimes.

Mobile phones are traded easily and can be accessed formally and informally. Many people buy phones cheaply from friends and acquaintances without asking about their origin and without formal documentation. They are ignorant of the fact that all mobile phones leave electronic footprints and electronic records that can easily be accessed from mobile service providers.

That phone bought cheaply may end up costing you dearly. Insist on a receipt. Or a written document from the seller indicating where he got the mobile from, and the price at which he sold you the phone. That simple document may save you from a long jail term.



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