Over the years, con artists in Kenya have been using several tricks to fleece unsuspecting people. In their bag of tricks lie sophisticated fraudulent tricks ranging from simple bumping into someone seeking help to a serious phone call conversation. If you thought you knew about all their tricks, you are wrong. Sit pretty, because I have a new catchy one; perhaps not reported yet, but will soon hit the headlines.

Google Maps user navigates

I’m not talking about the Meru (or any other upcountry town) guy who claims doesn’t know his way around Nairobi but has won one milli in the once infamous charity sweepstakes. Neither am I talking about the two con artists with one claiming to be a miti-shamba seller another one a buyer. Of course, this duo often targets M-Pesa operators. And gone are the days when Kenyans fell for those fake calls or M-Pesa messages from Kamiti prisoners. This new trick it involves tech, and it is only a matter of time it is reported here.

In the last week of November, police in India reported that fraudsters were using the latest Google Maps update to defraud unsuspecting users. The update enables you to contact a business from within the app. The new improvement works in a similar way as Facebook Messenger or the fairly new WhatsApp Business. But scammers have also joined the game and are not wasting time to exploit the existing loophole.

Over the time, Google Maps, has allowed volunteers to make changes and corrections to items listed on the navigation app. While this is a good thing for getting accurate data, fraudsters and malicious people are using this feature to change the details of listed businesses.

The incident in India saw them change details of financial institutions such as banks and afterward intercepted calls by customers. This left many customers vulnerable, as the first interactions with financial institutions are always confirming the details of your account. These scammers, however, will play around with the customer to reveal even the most sensitive information about their accounts.

How this Google Map Security Lapse can affect Kenya

With the advent of mobile banking in Kenya, the scammers in Kenya can easily use this trick and empty your account. I know the scammers in Kenya often call you,but here is a case where it is you who calls your bank only for your call to be intercepted by fraudsters. It is an easy catch for them, given that you are the one who initiate the conversation.

But if you’ve been abreast with Google Maps, you know these scams are not new.  Changing the contact details is just one trick these guys have up their sleeves. Another method has been the creation of a spurious listing. They anticipate a person will use Google Maps Apps to search for people who offer quick fixes.

Let’s say you need a technician, say a plumber, locksmith, or an electrician. These fraudsters use fake listings under such categories and trick Google Maps. They do this with a false specified local address, and with a genuine suite number verified by the U.S. Postal Service. Once you fall into their net, they can rob, overcharge or do whatever they deem fit. After all, all you will be on a wild goose chase the moment they leave your house. Just be careful less you call armed gang men to come in the name of a quick fix.

Google’s Response

Google maps have been struggling to fight scammers, including businesses practicing unethical practices such as sponsoring fake negative reviews to down rivals and fake positive reviews to up their own image. While the search engine giant sends a physical postcard with verification PIN to the real address, con artists still have ways to trick businesses into revealing this PIN. Once they have the Google PIN, they comfortably control the account without the knowledge of the business.

While the California based tech giant says it has limited the number verification postcards it sends to the same address based on different suite numbers and using Google algorithms to detect fake listings, it is obvious that it doesn’t have an automatic defense against this recent development. It acknowledged the problem reported in India but didn’t reveal any specific fix. So it will do you a lot of good to refer to the Google Safety Center outlined tips on consumer’s safety online.

However, the best way to stay safe is being extra vigilant with those searches,especially those relating to contacts, you do online. If you are looking for a phone number, just ensure the same phone number you have has been listed on the company’s official website. Better still, never search of bank contacts online.