Our investigations reveal that the scammers have been able to evoke emotions of unsuspecting people.
PIC: Scammers use photos of a burnt girl to con the public
They drive the latest cars and live in plush mansions. Unknown to many is that they are internet scammers who con people under the pretext that they are running orphanages.
The platform for the scam is Facebook. Conmen target individuals in faith-based groups with a large following. Their aim: to use the scripture against them. The more religious, perhaps, the more cheerful a giver.
The next step is to send friend requests to individuals and begin messaging them privately.
Once the one replies, they continue the chitchats for as long as they can until they earn their trust; send links of their websites and pictures/videos of the "orphans" in their care. They give a disguised story about being orphans themselves.
It is a well-rehearsed story inspiring hope and courage; a story that will evoke emotions.
Sometimes, they send a photo or two of vulnerable children holding placards with messages asking for help. These children are randomly picked and stage-managed for photoshoots. Along the way, you find yourself more than willing to donate to the children in these orphanages. However, in actual sense, they are not orphanages, but scammers.
With the increasing number of fundraising charities on social media, many unscrupulous persons are taking advantage of this to con people.
Money must be wired directly to them - through international money transfers.
Sometimes, they convince gullible donors to help them create online campaigns such as GoFundMe.com and Paypal accounts where people can deposit the money. Once you become suspicious and confront them or post a negative comment, they delete and block you from their list of friends. Often, it is too late.
Sunday Vision investigations center around two young lads who simultaneously share plans to rip off people using the same plot. There is Alex Mumpe who claims to work with Kampala Christian Orphanage and Frank Kasiita from Kids4Christ Orphanage. The latter's website (http://kids4christug.org/ ) had been pulled down by press time, probably after suspecting that he would be exposed.
However, Mumpe's site http://www.kampalachristianorphanage.org was still up and running by press time.
Although the website is silent on the center's location, it tells of sponsoring about 30 children.
There are no contact or location details. It is dotted with links to follow if one wants to sponsor a child. A quick scan takes you to the bio of the founder, Alex Mumpe.
He claims to have lost his parents to HIV/AIDS at the age of eight; and a difficult childhood thereafter pushed him to be passionate about children.
Meanwhile, Frank Kasiita in his profile also claims to have started Kids4Christ Orphanage in 2014 by sponsoring five children and now alleges to have 21 children. Like Mumpe, he says he is an orphan and a Christian driven by the desire to put a smile on the face of disadvantaged children.
It is hard to tell whether these bios are a true account of their lives. However, our investigations reveal that they have been able to evoke emotions of unsuspecting people. Here is how: One afternoon in June 2017, a girl no older than 10, burns her toe badly supposedly while playing in burning rubbish.
Mumpe and Kasiita each take turns to take pictures with the burnt girl, only identified as Peace. It is an opportunity to make millions of money. Mumpe, disguised as Kampala Christian Orphanage, posts an urgent request seeking $100.
Sympathies started flooding in from all corners, including Sunday Vision under a disguised identity. We send him the money, but even after receiving it, he continues asking us for another $100. He threatens us that if we do not send more money, Peace would not receive any treatment.
Meanwhile, his colleague Frank Kasiita disguised as Kids4Christ also posts a similar story, pleading for $100 to treat the burnt girl and another $100 the following day.
It is a coincidence. When Sunday Vision inquiries from one of them, the two lads pull down the posts and go an extra mile of ‘unfriending' us. However, we already have the screenshots.
The water tank story
Our investigations lead us to another similar storyline. Mumpe through his Facebook account befriends Douglas (second name withheld). He is an evangelist who easily falls for the scam when Mumpe posts on his Facebook timeline that his orphanage needs a rainwater tank. He posts disheartening pictures of "orphans" fetching water from a well
Douglas who lives in the UK offers to operate a Paypal account where money collected can be wired to Mumpe.
The two keep in touch, their friendship growing closer by the day. Time goes by. Douglas agrees to a suggestion that he should visit the home.
Mumpe plans an elaborate visit. Children hired as orphans. Beds are crammed into two different rooms.
Everything is staged, posed to look like a home in need of support. The home Douglas would stay in he thought to be an orphanage children's home would actually be the home of Kasiita's relatives in Mukono, Sunday Vision would later learn.
Having the young children speaking in Luganda and needing translation reduces the chances of the truth being revealed. The children have no idea what is going on.
By the time Douglas arrives, he finds 28 children all fitted in two tiny rooms. One room is the girl's dormitory with a single bed for 18 girls. Because half of the girls are three to five years old, it is easy to believe the story of a center in need.
The second room is the boy's dormitory with three beds for 10 boys. Here it is more spaced, but still has the children sleeping one end of the mattress and others on another end. A room is set aside for Mumpe and his fulltime helper ‘uncle Franco.' (Sunday Vision would later learn that Uncle Franco was Frank Kasiita.)
The final room, joined with the boy's dormitory, serves as the dining hall as well as place where children play, read, colour, pray and sing.
It is a small enclosure. Nearby is a freshly built concrete base supposedly, where the water tank would be built. It is hard to smell a rat. Douglas easily mingles with the ‘orphans,' taking pictures.
Unknown to him is that the scammers badly want his face in the pictures for their own motives. See, he is a white visitor. Posting his pictures and videos on their social media timelines and websites makes them appear legit.
Sunday Vision has also learnt that when one visits they purchase food and items during their stay, which is then distributed to the hired "orphans," as payback.
As we browse the Kids4Christ's ( Frank Kasiita's) site, it is evident that they are the same children under the supposed care of Mumpe. We also notice the same backgrounds in the pictures. Many of their Facebook posts also have same wording and the same white man (Douglas) in photos.
We also notice the same water tank campaign, and same clothes.
Could it be that Kasiita photographs Mumpe with the children to post and publish under the Kampala Christian Orphanage site and vice versa for Kids4Christ orphanage? Sunday Vision was able to take screenshots of the striking similarities.
Our investigations also reveal that Douglas ended up giving Mumpe a $ 1,800 for a 5,000-litre water tank. Mumpe showed him a receipt with the figure sh.3.5m as accountability. However, Sunday Vision's has established that a similar 5,000-liter water tank costs only about sh1.6m on the market.
Investigations further reveal that within two months after this incident, Kasiita began a similar water tank campaign. Our source, identified as Erina fell for Kasiita's lie. She donated around $1,200 for the same water tank she thought was going to Kasiita's Kids4Christ orphanage home.
When both lads posted pictures of the tank and children holding signs, it was the same photoshoot! The pictures and the time difference of May 2016 and July 2016 was undeniable evidence of what was going on.
It is not clear if a tank was ever purchased or if the duo were just posing with a random tank. However, sources say the water tank is installed at one of their parent's houses.
OTHER SCAMMERS AND THEIR LAVISH LIFESTYLE
The two lads do not work in isolation. Details reveal there is a chain of scammers that are holding Facebookers hostage. Other suspected scammers include, Herman Heavens aka Laven Kayiga, believed to be running the Facebook page Light a Future Orphanage center; SimonPeter Ssewanyana of St. Peters Kids Orphanage, and Kenneth Kalule, who is directly believed to be working with Kasiita and Mumpe.
The duo have been seen out and about Kampala, driving luxurious car models. They are rumoured to have left their residence in Mukono and are renting an expensive residence in Muyenga, an upscale suburb. They spend most of their time in their cars, moving around a lot. A prominent gospel artist is said to be their mentor.
Besides Mukono, they are reported to be now targeting children in Masaka.
The BIGGER PICTURE
According to the annual Police Crime report, 83 cases of cybercrime were 2014 reported up from 64 cases in 2012. This translated into a loss of about sh27.1b. Of the 83 cases registered in 2014, at least 35 of them were related to Facebook and emails. 10 cases were successfully investigated.
Police spokesperson Emilian Kayima says cybercrimes are increasing by the day with the changing technology. "As technology advances, so are the criminals. Just yesterday we arrested someone who hacked into someone's email and started soliciting for money," says Kayima.
A Cyber Barometer available on the Uganda Police website says Facebook scams easily lure people, since they have links which they look genuine.
"Even the most savvy social media user has to be on the lookout," the barometer notes.
It also says that with the large amount of personal information that Facebook users post, it is easy for criminals to steal users' identities. The Police reveal that criminals on Facebook use cyberstalking - a process that typically involves harassing a person with messages, and other persistent online behavior that puts the user at the risk of giving in to their demands.
Globally, there is increasing scrutiny on Facebook, following a scandal in which confidential data from millions of users is said to have leaked. A movement to quit the social network has also gathered momentum and lawsuits have emerged.
As it is, anyone with a Facebook page and a credit card can pay Facebook to promote a post in a user's news feeds and can select the type of individual they wish to target, based on users' activity on the platform. Page owners can also hide adverts from public view, making them visible only to people who have been targeted, or those who have a link to the advert already.
Founder Mark Zuckerberg has recently apologized and promised better, following accusations of him profiting from scams and fake adverts that are harmful to his platform's users.
STAKEHOLDERS SPEAK OUT
In Uganda, investigating such crimes remains comes with many challenges. The Police report cites limited skills to investigate high-tech crimes, while some crimes take a long time because they involve cross boarder suspects. Some victims also suffer silently.
Indeed, referring to the Sunday Vision investigation Luke Owoyesigire, the Kampala metropolitan Police publicist said he was not aware of any complaints reported.
When contacted Moses Binoga, the coordinator of the Ugandan National Counter Human Trafficking Taskforce also asked Sunday Vision for details to enable him to investigate the matter.
The issue also raises questions on how safe some of the "hired" children are. "Parents should not trust their children with just anyone as they could be exposed to traffickers," says Binoga.
In 2013, the then gender minister Karooro Okurut directed that all orphanages and child care centers be re-registered to weed out organisations with hidden motives.
When contacted for an update, the commissioner of children affairs in the gender ministry Mondo Kyateka referred Sunday Vision to his colleague Stella Ogwang who was reluctant to reveal details. However, Ogwang believes that fraudsters run the alleged centers - Kampala Christian Orphanage and Kids4Christ.
"From the onset, if they were enuine orphanages, they would not have to hide their contact details or their location of their offices," said Ogwang, a probation and welfare officer at the gender ministry
WHAT CAN BE DONE
Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) condemns the vice and warns the public against irresponsible and illegal use of all communication platforms. It says anyone who posts, receives, shares and forwards any forms of electronic communications containing unlawful content risks being prosecuted for aiding or abetting any resultant offences.
"We also appeal to victim's to report to police and give us a reference number for follow up. We have some cases in court," says UCC's communication officer Pamela Ankunda.
Section 3 of the Uganda Computer Misuse Act, says offenders are liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding two hundred and forty currency points or imprisonment not exceeding 10 years or both
Ankunda warns social media users to be careful about sharing personal information with strangers. "Don't give personal updates of where you are. Disable location services on your phone. We also have an emergency team to help out victims, "she says