On the evening of October 5 this year, businessman George Juma was taking a breather in his Toyota Prado along Kaunda Street in Nairobi’s central business district before braving the traffic home as is his norm.
Shortly, he spotted three people, among them a police officer, attempting to break into his car unaware that he was sitting behind the steering wheel. Alarmed, he stepped out of the car and confronted them.
Within seconds, curious patrons from the nearby restaurant were milling around the scene as he challenged the strangers to explain who they were and why the hell they were attempting to break into his car.
Cornered, the men claimed they were National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) officials and auctioneers on a mission to repossess the vehicle because it’s owners had borrowed over Sh1 million from a city micro-finance institution and gone underground without paying a dime.
He immediately smelled a rat: NTSA officials wouldn’t be skulking around with auctioneers to repossess vehicles whose owners owe banks. That is not their job, a detail that NTSA boss George Njau confirmed to this writer.
To Juma’s shock, however, the men were not only armed with photographs of his vehicle but the copy of a logbook bearing someone else’s name. Realising the crowd was becoming restless and increasingly menacing, the criminals developed cold feet and melted into thin air.
While Juma swiftly reported the matter at the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) who are now pursuing the culprits, it has now emerged that the incident is not isolated. There is a gang of swindlers forging Kenyan logbooks to access bank loans and then “repossessing” the genuine vehicle whose logbooks were forged because of “outstanding loans”.
The businessman explained to The Nairobian that he bought the vehicle from a bazaar along Lang’ata Road in 2013, has the sale agreement and bank transfer details as proof and that he has never borrowed any loan using his car as collateral.
“The auctioneers had photos of a car that looked like mine. The registration number of the car in the photo was similar to mine also, but the car was different in colour. When they realised I was not scared, they demanded to see my original logbook, but I yelled for help and they fled.
“I have all the details to prove that I’m the owner of this car, including a sales agreement, details of the tracking company and even the insurance details. What I don’t know is how my car details and profile were imposed on another logbook yet I have been driving it all along,” Juma said.
What Juma was not aware of is that he is not the first victim of the scam. In South C estate, Nairobi, the same group, posing as auctioneers and NTSA officials, pounced on Rehema Adi when she was driving alone in June and took off with her Toyota Fielder. The gang was, however, intercepted by police as they attempted to branch onto the Mai Mahiu-Narok road.
“At first, I assumed that my husband had taken a loan using the logbook, but when I called him, he alerted his colleagues (he is a police officer) and the vehicle was intercepted at around 2am,” Rehema recalls.
John Kamau, a city insurer, says he encountered the same problem last year. He suspects the con men could be breaching NTSA’s Transport Integrated Management System (TIMS) to get car details and could be working with crooked police officers for protection.
“The details of your car remain the same in the logbook, only little description like colour is edited and names changed to another person’s who then borrows a loan with your car as collateral. After a while, the same cartel pounces and seizes your car and vanishes into thin air,” Kamau said.
A senior detective who is privy to the operations of the cartel says their unit is currently handling similar cases, which have been on the rise in the last three years. He suspects the crooks could be using insiders to get the details of targetted vehicles.
“I have encountered seven cases in less than four months. The problem starts from NTSA where some staff hack into TIMS and alter car details, such as the name of owners, or assist the crooks to make a copy of logbooks,” he told The Nairobian.
But NTSA boss George Njau says his officers don’t work with auctioneers.
“This is the first case I’m hearing about. But if it has been reported to the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, they will write to us and we will respond to their questions,” he told The Nairobian.
Njau added that Kenyans are free to visit NTSA for validation in case of such incidences.
“We are open during weekdays. Those are thieves, we wouldn’t do such things here because our processes are very clear,” Njau said.