Public Service Announcement (or Beware of Airtime Thieves!)

Calendar ViewI am livid to say the least. Let me to tell you why. On Monday morning, I woke up to realize that it was the first of the month. For me, the first of any month means one thing: it’s time to take a look at my finances and make a budget for the month ahead. The first of the month, this month, found me in Kampala, Uganda, so I quickly knew that my list of things to do on Monday would have to include making a couple of calls to Nairobi.

Not one to waste money on unnecessary long distance calls, I decided to check how much airtime I had on my Safaricom SIM card to make these calls. My balance was less than 10 KSh. No sweat, this just meant that I’d first have to purchase Safaricom airtime before making the calls. Luckily, there’s a gas station not far from where I stay where I can do just that. With the situation under control, I thought no more of it, and decided to return my MTN SIM card back into my phone. Before I managed to do that, I received a message from +254(715)490965…a number not registered in my phone book. The message seemingly came from Safaricom. It read: the better option: top-up ksh 250/ then press *140*0222*715497678# then ok, you will receive Bonga airtime worth kshs 5,000 the better option.

Cool, I thought. At the exchange rate at which I buy Safaricom airtime in Kampala, I could do with some free airtime! I put my MTN SIM card back into my telephone and didn’t give the SMS another thought. A little later in the day, when I’d purchased the required airtime and was ready to make the phone calls, I put my Safaricom SIM card back into my phone and loaded exactly 250 KSh worth of airtime. I thought: before I make the phone calls, why not deal with the message that came in earlier about the Bonga airtime? My focus really wasn’t the extra airtime, I just hate to have things pending. I figured Safaricom needed its users to press the combination of characters specified in the text for technical reasons, and for this inconvenience was rewarding its customers with Bonga airtime. It seemed straightforward to me, so I did as the SMS instructed and then waited.

I was conned

Immediately, I got a message that read: Ksh 222.00 has been transferred from your account to 71549678. New balance: 36.97.etc…Aaaarrrgggghhhh! Then I knew. I had been had! In hindsight, I should have been wary of any text messages claiming to come from Safaricom that was from an unusual number. After all, messages from Safaricom generally show up in my inbox as coming from ‘Safaricom’. Then, if I had paid closer attention, I might also have noticed that the character sequence that ‘Safaricom’ was instructing me to input started with *140, the number associated with Safaricom’s Sambaza service which transfers airtime from one Safaricom user to another. That should have done it! Could have, should have, would have, but didn’t! I guess I just didn’t have my wits about me that day.

Well, my airtime’s gone (if anyone’s reading from Safaricom is there anything you can do to help me?) but in case you haven’t yet been hit by this scam, I thought I’d share my experience with you in order to save you from suffering the same fate.

Now you know. Be wary of text messages that claim to come from Safaricom that don’t register in your SMS inbox as from ‘Safaricom’. Also, remember that 140 is the number used when transfering airtime from your account to another user’s account. Armed with this knowledge, I doubt you can be had!

Well, I hope all is well in your corner of the world, and that it continues to be so with your airtime safely on your mobile phone account (which is exactly where it should be!).

READ ALSO: Where to Stay in Stone Town, Zanzibar For Every Budget

That’s it for now.


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2 thoughts on “Public Service Announcement (or Beware of Airtime Thieves!)”

Eh! sori about dat.. these scams have been taking place forever. The’z nathing you can do about your airtime though, you’l probably find its gone into some Kamiti Life-Sentenced prisoner’s cellphone. Pole.

checkout my blog,

Hi Ujo,

Welcome to ChickAboutTown!

Although your comment can’t bring my airtime back (and even told me to give up all thoughts of recovering it), it definitely put a smile on my face. You cracked me up with your reference to “some Kamiti Life-Sentenced prisoner’s cellphone”. Hehehehe…I am still cracked up!.

Thanks a mill, and yes, I will definitely check out your blog.


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