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Technology

New app sounds the death knell for con artists

Mobilab’s M-verified allows buyers to check documents when acquiring assets like cars or land. Photo/File
Mobilab’s M-verified allows buyers to check documents when acquiring assets like cars or land. Photo/File 

One of the greatest concerns for most people across the world when carrying out large financial transactions is whether the deal is genuine or one party is a con.

For Kenyans, verifying documents when buying a vehicle or land is a nightmare. Part of the reason is the growing interest in such assets, leading to the thriving of dubious agents.

Because cons have become more sophisticated and hard to single out from the well-dressed and educated, signing on the dotted line has become a nail-biting event that go in tandem with second-guessing.

However, this window may soon be closing and shutting out architects of these deals associated with the underworld. Two young software developers have created M-verified, “a simple” application that promises to lessen the anxiety.

M-verified enables users to ascertain the authenticity of documents used in such deals, including title deeds, logbooks and Personal Identification Numbers (PINs).

“The application is simple and it can be accessed either through an online portal, WAP or GPRS-enabled phones or simply as a mobile application,” explains Samuel Kamau, one of the developers.

“When, for example, scouting for a car to buy, the potential seller provides a licence plate and chassis numbers. Using these unique figures as identifiers, you key them in and the system immediately identifies the person under whose name the vehicle is registered.”

Since these numbers are unique, the user will be able to get the true owner(s) of the vehicle, showing details as registered at the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA).

The developers, through their company, Mobilab, have signed a data-sharing deal with the taxman to link the application to KRA’s database.
At all times, taxpayers’ confidential details remain secret even to users of the application.

“We do not have the entire KRA database at our disposal since most of the data is confidential. Our agreement with KRA allows us to embed a script to their system through which we leverage our portal,” explained Mr Kamau. The script allows them to see data upon imputing specific queries.

Mr Kamau says the system uses both the vehicle licence plate and the chassis numbers to avoid security risks that can arise from ill-intentioned users manipulating the system to find out confidential information of car owners.

“We have ensured that people only use the system when they are making a car purchase because when somebody is selling to you a car, they must provide a logbook for verification.

This reveals the chassis number and, therefore, using licence numbers alone will not return any results ensuring that innocent car owners are protected.” In the first five months of the year, the number of motor vehicles sold went up by eight per cent compared to a similar period last year.

By May the number of vehicles sold had climbed to 25,856 from 23,865 last year.

The application can be used to verify the identities of individuals using their revenue authority PINs and upon enquiry return a result of one’s tax compliance and financial history.

To check the person you are dealing with is tax-compliant, you key in their PINs into the app and their tax compliance certificate shows.

“This will help to determine whether the party has a proper transactional track record,” said Patrick Mutahi, the M-verified co-developer.

Land transactions have become even harder and more complex, what with the proliferation of fake title deeds. However, the M-verified duo says this code can also be cracked open with ease using the app. Within a few minutes an individual can establish the authenticity of a title deed.

This is especially timely given that the country is experiencing increased activity in the real estate sector with investors and potential home buyers jostling for a piece of the asset.

It also has the potential of boosting the sector when people have confidence in the deals.

The new application will reduce the security threats that accompany business transactions and make it easier for users to make informed and secure financial decisions, the two say.

“We have applied the same system to help verify the authenticity of KCPE and KCSE certificates and we are in talks with the Kenya National Examinations Council to allow us embed the same script on their system.” Once this is done, employers shall be able to verify whether a job interviewee or even their employees have fake certificates.

Already the government has put on notice people holding fake certificates that their days are numbered.

Since it went live about three months ago, the application has generated substantial interest among Internet users and even forced the two developers to bring in more people to assist with deploying the service.

The system is free to download as an Android application and can also be accessed online. However, to make a verification enquiry will cost the user Sh600 which is payable through M-Pesa or Airtel Money.

The developers are now looking to make it accessible to more people by creating a USSD version.

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