Loose restrictions on hiring a car and the high resale value of the vehicle have made car rental in Uganda the number one target for scammers
SPECIAL FEATURE | THE INDEPENDENT | Car rental in Uganda is such a lucrative business but most proprietors are hesitant to invest in it. This is because of the high risks experienced in its operations. The prime risks are car theft and accident damages which bring colossal losses to the operators.
Rental cars are susceptible to theft because the services are open and accessible to the general public. Anyone can hire a car for self drive in Uganda as long as they have the minimum requirements which include a driver’s license, national identity card, passport, and payment for the services.
The loose restrictions on hiring a car and the high resale value of the vehicle have made car rental in Uganda the number one target for scammers and thieves.
The theft of the rental car comes in two ways; the scammer disguises as a hirer whereby he contacts the car hire provider requesting the services and he eventually disappears with the vehicle for good. The second way is where the robber steals the rental car from the client when using it.
Several car rental theft incidents have happened but the cars have never been recovered and the scammers too have never been brought to book. Ironically, some have been identified and caught and they are renowned perpetual robbers in Kampala.
One of the car rental theft incidents in Uganda
Among the many car hire heists, there is one beguiling one that is worth telling. In the month of September 2019, a white man who disguised as Rudolph Krauss duped Omega car rental proprietor, Mbazira Sulaiman. The conman who held a South African passport and driver’s license stole a Toyota Land cruiser Lx with a rooftop tent up to now the car has never been discovered.
Mbazira for long had thwarted to provide self drive rental services to locals insinuating that Ugandans were crooks and unruly who could not abide by the car rental contract and were highly likely to steal the vehicles.
The omega car rental top brass indigently revealed and made his case to most of the locals that contacted the company inquiring about the car hire services.
One fatefully evening on 18th September 2022, Mbazira received a WhatsApp message from a white man who wished to hire a Toyota Land Cruiser LX (Land cruiser Hardtop) with a rooftop tent for 5 days and his rental period was to start the following day. Mbazira sent his quote and the scammer swiftly accepted the proposal.
Mbazira was super excited about the car rental deal he had made because the quote was way above the reserved price for hiring the land cruiser hard top with a rooftop tent.
He immediately called one of his staff to make the preparations and arrangements for the vehicle so that it can be ready for the next day’s business.
Fast forward, on 19th September 2022 in the late afternoon, Mbazira was ready to deliver the rental car to the client at Munyonyo Speke Resort. He was escorted by one of his colleagues. Mbazira and co arrived at Munyonyo at around 4 pm and shortly after the scammer came to finalize the deal.
They exchanged pleasantries and went through all the formalities of inspecting the car, checking the passport details and driver’s license, reading and signing the contract and making payment.
After everything, they parted ways and Mbazira went home with a face of a winner since he had made a profitable deal.
After 4 days had passed, Krauss called Mbazira to let him know that he wished to extend his rental period for more three days and his wish was granted.
After the extended three days had elapsed, the omega car rental boss called Krauss to arrange for the drop-off of the car but his phone was out of reach.
Immediately, panic kicked in. The first thing that ran into Mbazira’s mind was, could the client have gotten a problem? He tried calling over and over again but all in vain.
The next day he went to Katwe police station to report a missing person. The police right away started doing the searching since it involved a foreigner.
After some reasonable investigation, police found out the case was not for a missing person but rather a car heist. The case took another twist and the investigations were geared toward car theft.
The police looked at the security cameras planted around the country and the last capture of the car was around Mabira forest.
They further called at the various Uganda border points to find out whether the vehicle had crossed but there was no trace of it.
Weeks went on as Mbazira reported to the police to check whether there was any development on the case, but nothing was found. His hope kept on fading until he came to terms that the car was never going to be recovered.
Therefore, Mbazira’s ordeal shows that car rental theft does not only involve local people but also a foreign fellow can scheme you.
Tips for avoiding car rental theft in Uganda
The tips below are not ultimate since scammers use different tricks but they can help you avoid car rental theft to a greater extent. The tips are divided into two sections, the ones to be followed by the rental operators and those for the clients/travelers.
Tips for the car hire operators
Most car thefts have happened to car hire operators because there are easy targets to the scammers. Car rental agencies provide their services to anyone and it is hard for them to detect the right and wrong people. Nonetheless, the tips below can help to minimize car rental theft on the side of the operators.
Request for Identification
Identity revelation is one of the requirements of car rental in Uganda but at times, most operators forget about it because of too much excitement of finalizing a transaction with the client.
An original copy of the national identity card for the locals and a passport for the foreigners must be presented to verify the client’s identity. Look at the visa in the passport for foreign clients.
A photocopy of any of the documents must also be retained for record-keeping. Knowing the client’s identity can speed up the police’s investigation or search in case of car theft or any other problem.
Install GPS trackers in your fleet of cars
A car tracker is the best remedy for car hire heists. With the GPS tracker installed, the rental vehicle can easily be located and identified where it is. The operators can keep track of the cars on their smartphones at any time.
The most incredible part of the tracker, the car can be stopped from moving in case of any suspicion with just a click on the app. GPS tracker service providers are not short in Uganda, there is a mammoth of them around Kampala and very affordable.
Purchase comprehensive insurance for the rental cars
Although comprehensive insurance does not help in retrieving the car in case of theft, it helps in compensation. Comprehensive insurance covers third party, car theft, and collision damage waiver.
Once the vehicle is stolen, the operator can report to the insurance company and make their investigations. if proved to be true, the insurance makes the compensation in funds of what the car valued at the time of theft. Therefore, the car rental operator does not entirely lose as he is compensated.
Be careful of last-minute bookings
Most car rental thefts come from urgent inquiries. The scammers normally call in requesting car hire services as soon as possible and they accept any quote offered to them.
This is a trick to catch the operator off-guard since there is no room to process the whole scheme. More so, operators forget to take the right course of hiring a car because of the urgency of the booking.
Therefore, you are advised to take it slow and make a critical observation of the last-minute bookings that come in. When you feel skeptical about the car rental deal, it is best to decline it.
Advice to the clients/travelers
The car robbers do not only target car hire agencies but also customers. Although there has not yet been a case of car rental theft from the hirer, precautions have to be exercised to avoid the plight.
Avoid driving at night
The night comes with lots of mysteries of one of them is theft. Most thefts in the world happen at night since it is dark and easy to run away.
When it comes to Uganda, most of its roads don’t have security lights especially highways and remote ones. These roads sometimes harbor highway robbers who ambush people and take their belongings.
Avoid driving at night not to fall prey to these scam bugs. The good thing, car rental companies in Uganda do not allow driving at night. They advise their clients to start using the rental vehicle from 6:00 am to 7:00 pm.
Do not act good Samaritan
When driving in Uganda, avoid offering transport lifts to strangers found along the journey. The bunch that solicits for lifts comprise good and bad people. Therefore, do not take chances, restrain from the act to be on the safe side.
Park in visible or public places
At some point, you need to park the vehicle while on your tour. You could be wanting to buy some refreshments, groceries, and snacks at the supermarket, to have a meal at a restaurant, to ease yourself, or to sight at some natural feature that could have attracted. Parking or pulling over is inevitable on your trip.
However, this must be done in a safe and secure place. you are recommended to park in a public or visible spot such as near a restaurant, supermarket, local market, hotel, and any other public establishment. It is very hard for one to steal a car from such open areas.
Do not drive to strange places
Driving in Uganda is such a fascinating adventure that opens up opportunities for visiting and sighting outstanding sceneries and other natural treasures.
However, you need to limit and lower your excitement and adrenaline because it may lead you to places that may turn into trouble.
Uganda is regarded as a safe and secure area but like all areas in the world, there are some places that are danger-bound, especially those dominated by dense forests. These dense forests sometimes anchor rebels or hostile people who can easily harm you as well as take the car.
Lock the car at all times
While the rental car is in your hands as a client, you should always lock it when driving or parking. Some of these crooks are brave enough, they can invade you in the car, especially in traffic jam, grab your belonging or even abduct you and take the car.
Endeavor to make full use of the central lock to close all the doors of the car. When you have parked the car, check if all its doors are closed before you leave.
When you rent a car in Uganda, ensure to hide your identity. This tip particularly goes to foreign travelers. Try to present yourself as someone who knows around the place you are visiting. Don’t seek help from any random person you come across. Be selective and solicit assistance if need be from personnel from lodges, restaurants, refilling station attendants, tourist sites, markets, and so forth.
In conclusion, car rental theft is on the rise in Uganda both the operators and the clients have to be so careful. The above-explained tips avoid and limit the vice of car heist when followed.