Nairobi News


How M-Pesa agents will be using photos to verify your identity

Safaricom’s mobile money agents will soon start using photos to identify those withdrawing or depositing money on the M-Pesa platform, to curb fraud.

The telco has distributed 25,000 pre-programmed smartphones to M-Pesa agents for registration of new SIM cards. Faces of SIM card owners will be captured and their digital copies stored for retrieval during M-Pesa transactions.

Safaricom, which has 28.1 million registered customers and 19 million active M-Pesa users, said the special phones are linked to the Registrar of Persons database, helping to verify the data as it is fed into the system.


It added that its digital database, which is also being populated with photos of subscribers, should ease service delivery as agents and customer care representatives need not ask for proof of identity prior to a transaction.

M-Pesa’s 135,500 agents across the country will conduct all transactions through the company-issued phones, allowing them to validate the particulars on the national identity card presented to them and the person doing so.

“Using an application in the phone, the agent keys in the customer’s registration details, then takes a photo of the documents and the person registering,” Safaricom Corporate Affairs Director Stephen Chege explained.

“The big win from this process is the photo evidence of the person registering. This will eliminate use of stolen personal identification documentation to commit fraud.”

The law requires telcos or their appointed agents to register SIM card owners after noting down their “full name, identity card number, date of birth, gender, physical and postal address”.


Safaricom, however, seems to be using its new registration format to enhance its database and lift its customer security levels to those of commercial banks.

Fraudsters have targeted M-Pesa, exploiting loopholes in its processes to steal money from customers.

These include registering M-Pesa accounts using stolen or forged ID cards to steal from other accounts.

Besides, conmen have called customers to inform them that they have won money in a competition and, through a series of instructions, shepherded unsuspecting users to the point of sending money to the fraudsters as a prerequisite to accessing their ‘winnings’.

They have also got customers to reveal their year of birth (often, but insecurely, used as PIN), ID numbers and a few recent transactions and used the information to draw funds from their M-Pesa accounts.

In 2011, a convicted criminal serving time at the Kamiti Maximum Prison forged an ID card belonging to former chief of the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF), Gen (Rtd) Jeremiah Kianga, and conned Kenyans of thousands of shillings with the promise of military jobs.


Last March, police in Eldoret arrested a man suspected of stealing more than Sh180,000 from mobile money agents in Nandi using dozens of stolen SIM cards and IDs, which were used to register M-Pesa lines.

The failure by some mobile money agents to counter-check the identity of a customer with that on the ID card presented often leads to fraudulent withdrawals.

“This (photo capture) will translate to better data integrity, adding to the security of M-Pesa services as well as other value-add services which are dependent on customer identification,” said Mr Chege.

In the year to March, Safaricom recorded Sh1.84 trillion in M-Pesa deposits and withdrawals of Sh1.6 trillion. The telco also made Sh55.1 billion in revenue from the platform then, a 32.7 per cent year-on-year growth.

Other transactions — such as Lipa Na M-Pesa, gaming, M-Shwari, KCB M-Pesa and airtime purchase — accounted for Sh1.8 trillion transactions, while person-to-person transfers recorded Sh1.6 trillion during the period.