Of the Car Number Plate Thieves Who Leave a Mobile Number Behind

Bang. Bang. I woke up suddenly to two loud noises in succession. Time check, 1:45 am 15th May 2022. Very terrible hour. This time

Bang. Bang. I woke up suddenly to two loud noises in succession. Time check, 1:45 am 15th May 2022. Very terrible hour. This time we were at our village home in Munteme, Kikuube district. When you suddenly jump out of deep sleep, you behave like a zombie in the first two minutes, as the mind tries to process what could be happening. However, after our ordeal at our Kampala home, when the thieves visited in the dead of the night, on 10th May 2022, we are learning to stay alert. The luxury of deep sleep is slowly being taken away. This is the price for working hard.

The two loud bangs woke up my wife too. We sat on the bed and looked at each other in bewilderment and anxiety. Are they breaking into the house or stealing car lights? We could not believe it.  Why the double misfortune. We had moved to the village to try to chill and relax following the home invasion that left us with no electronics in the sitting room. Who could be following us? Why us? How can this happen to us in the city and the village? As these questions went through my mind, I got my phone and started calling our neighbours. The first to call was my farm boy. Thank God his phone was on. He was too afraid to move out in the night alone. I then called the LC 1 chairman, at first his phone was off. Later, the Farmboy called him, and the phone was on. The network is poor in the village, the phones are usually on and off. When I called him again, I also found his phone on and he said he was coming. I informed my relatives in Kampala as well, though with hesitation as they would worry helplessly. Nevertheless, I called them as Mom had travelled for medical treatment following a small injury in her eye she got while pruning her bean crops.

The challenge with the village is the Police station is five kilometres away. And neighbours are dispersed. Getting immediate help is not easy. That itself is worrying especially when you get house break-in thieves.

After like 30 minutes, the neighbours arrived.

And we opened and went out of the house. That is when we noticed that the number plates were missing from the vehicle. The two loud bangs happened when the number plates were being plucked off by brute force. First, the thieves plucked off the front number plate, then the rear. They then had time to write their mobile phone number, and the ransom money they need to return the number plates before disappearing in into the cover of the dark. We noticed the phone number, 0741267067, written in red ink marker next to the front headlights. Then Ugx. 700,000 written on the rear side of the car just above the oil tank lid.

The neighbours tried to look around for any suspicious person in the nearby gardens and bushes in vain given the darkness.  After about three hours, the locals returned to their homes to relax. As one of them was about to arrive, he noticed a car with parking lights on. As he approached it, the driver sped by him fast as if to drive into him and disappeared.

In the morning, many neighbours came to offer support. I was informed that stealing number plates is something that has been going on in Hoima town and was spreading to the villages. It is done by petty thieves. The thieves target the visitors to villages, follow their cars and once they take note of the surroundings, they plan to attack at night. After taking the number plates, they leave a mobile phone number, which when you call it, the thieves ask for a ransom to return the number plates.

When we called the number left behind, I was asked to pay Ugx. 700,000. The money was a lot. I decided to encourage the locals to search for the plates. We had been told that the thieves usually hide the number plates nearby. And once you pay, they direct you where to find them. Being a cyber security expert and an investigator, I have this thing of never negotiating with criminals. We searched the entire neighbourhood, and after three hours, we could not find the number plates. I tried to enquire in Kampala, about the process of getting replacement number plates, and I was told Ugx. 450,000. I then planned to travel back to Kampala and process replacements. But there was a catch: how do you drive the car without number plates from Hoima to Kampala!  I decided to allow the LC 1 to contact the thieves with an offer of Ugx. 150,000. He did call them, and after some bargaining, they accepted the counter-offer. He said, “send it with the withdrawal fee.” We sent the money. However, after receiving it, they changed goal posts.

However, after receiving it, the thief changed his mind. He said, “this is business. I cannot just work for Ugx. 150,000. Send another Ugx. 50,000, I will give you the number plates.” I decided to abandon the idea altogether. I knew that is their scheme to keep asking for money. I made up my mind to travel to Kampala and process duplicate number plates. However, to drive a numberless car, I had to get traffic police clearance.

I visited the nearby police station at Kikuube district headquarters to report the matter. After taking my statement, the officers said they could try to track the criminals. They asked me to call the thieves and offer to send some money, keep it small, maybe Ugx 50,000. I called and put the phone on speaker and the thief picked up. He asked for the payment. I bargained that I had only Ugx. Ugx. 50,000. He said, ok, send it on the mobile number and I will help you to get your number plates. At the request of the police, I pleaded with the thief to go to withdraw the money directly off my mobile money number, to which he refused. I asked him to share an MTN number on which to send the money, but he also refused. “If you want your car number plates, send money on this Airtel mobile number I wrote on your car, which you are calling me on. Otherwise, you are wasting my time. I am going to switch off the phone. And you won’t get to me”, he said, in a hasty tone. Police tried to trace the call, in vain. The CID officer at the district could access the money withdrawal history on the number. Unfortunately, with the Airtel mobile money system, the statement does not show the Agent details (mobile number, and location) where someone has withdrawn the money. This is a big challenge for law enforcement which needs to be updated. And it appears the thieves know the weaknesses and that is why they prefer using the Airtel network for criminal activities. We tried to contact Airtel money customer help. We gave them the details of the transaction and requested them to block the money in vain. They said the money had already been withdrawn. We requested for the details of the Agent where the money was withdrawn, the customer help lady could not do the needful except with a court order! That would mean we process the same and deliver it to their Kampala office, the time which we did not have as the thieves would have disappeared.

However, true to his word, the thief upon receiving the Ugx. 50,000 additional ransom fees sent us directions on where to find the number plate. We were directed to a location about 1 km from our home (the location they stole the number plates). Unfortunately, he gave us only one number plate (the rear one).

Annoyed, I told the thief that he left no option but to use all means necessary to track him. He assured me that I was going to waste my time. “I have done this job for over two years now. And I have used the same number. I have stolen the number plates of RDCs, Senior Police Officers, and government officers and they have cooperated and paid. I am sorry to advise you that it is cheaper to pay the money I am asking for than try to look for me. because you will never catch.” With those words, he switched off the number.

I had the rear number plate fixed. With the police reference number, I drove to Kampala. I was so fed up with the experience that I decided to process a duplicate instead of begging a thief. I left some “facilitation fees” with the police officers to help track the culprits.

The thieves must have been informed that I left the village, for he called the LC 1 Chairman and offered to provide the second number plate if we paid just Ugx. 50,000. I told them I am not interested and that I had started a process to get duplicates. However, one of my friends in the village decided to take a risk and sent the Ugx. 50k. And true to their word, they directed him where to find the second number plate. He found it where they said they had hidden it. That ended the ordeal. I asked them to send the number plate to Kampala, which I am yet to receive as I write this.

I tried to follow the matter in Kampala to try to track the thieves, but the expenses involve discourage me from pursuing the matter. The Kikuube district police is the best place to handle the job. If they do revert to me with updates, I will facilitate them to bring those culprits to book.

These few days have taught me a lot of lessons:

1)Your neighbours are the critical second line of defence. Know each other well, work together and support one another.

2)You must prioritize personal security. Do not take it for granted. You must stay vigilant. Who is trailing you and be alert for any strange faces around your property?

3)Have a list of people whom you can contact at any hour of the night to respond to your save our souls (SOS) call. There is nothing as bad as calling someone at night and you find their phone is switched off at your hour of need.

4) Your happiness and sense of security are temporary. Anytime someone could make your life difficult. You need friends to help you navigate such tough times.

5) I have got a few friends sending me messages via WhatsApp, email, and SMS. Others have gone the extra mile to call me. These kinds of support messages are so critical. If you can, try to comfort someone with such messages. It may take just 2 minutes of your time to do, but that is a great social investment in someone’s life. And of course, I got neighbours visiting me in the village, that is invaluable. People coming to see you is outstanding. I now have understood the value of such deeper relationships and will always try to show up when I hear a friend or neighbour going through such challenges.

6) Be happy. Stay safe. Do not get discouraged. You need a strong social network – close family, relatives, neighbours, and friends. Having people physically visiting you at the crime scene is so comforting and refreshing. Thanks to all our neighbours, especially the Chairman LC 1, my sisters and brothers, and other neighbours who came to support us.

We spend a lot of our life chasing money and wealth and things, yet it is the people who matter. The fact is, you need to work hard so that you have the means to help others as well as show them how to better their lives. If you know of any opportunities, do connect with your friends and followers. The success of another person does not affect your success. The more people you lift, the better. For that reason, work hard and chase the money.

Do pay yourself well. Enjoy your heart’s desires if you can afford them. But do not be too extravagant that you waste resources yet there are so many people suffering and worried about their next meal.

If you have a chance to attend school, do your best. Education is the best equalizer. You can become anything and attain success that you never even imagined existed. Other means of attaining wealth are not secure enough, in my opinion.

Wish you a worry-free, happy life.

Copyright Mustapha B Mugisa, Mr Strategy 2022. All rights reserved.

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