Cosmas Omegoh explores the methods through which thieves defraud Nigerians these days using the automated teller machines and mobile phones.
This might be a caveat to many. If you are one of those who carry their banks on their hands, then this might interest you. If you have a high-level passion for Internet banking, or you have your bank accounts wired straight into your cell phone, then you better be careful.
If you also go about with your Automated Teller Machine (ATM) cards in your pockets all the time, and make several visitations to the ATM as soon as you’re low on cash, this might also be a piece of warning.
There are lots of thieves out there targeting your cell phones and ATM cards. If you misplace any of them these days, you might be in trouble. They will have access to your bank account and proceed to drain everything in it to the last kobo.
Many who have fallen prey to them in recent times are still sulking. In one fell swoop, the fraudsters swindled them of all the money they had toiled for. When the thieves steal cell phones, they use them to access the bank accounts of their victims.
Then they use the money to buy airtime for themselves and later, like Father Christmas, dish out the excess to their friends and loved ones. When they grab ATM cards, they change the pins and proceed to withdraw every kobo their victims have, leaving them with nothing but grief.
No doubt, one of technology’s new gifts to humanity is Internet banking. This ingenuity unarguably has been revolutionary – a radical departure from those banking ways of old, those days when accounts could only be domiciled in one branch. Accounts holders must carry passbooks about town, queuing inside banking halls, clutching their tally numbers while agonising for hours unending. All that is now a fairy tale. Innovations in the banking sector have quickened things. With a mere press of a single icon on your cell phone, you can transfer millions of cash across several hundreds of kilometres.
Now, you don’t need to carry tons of cash on you anymore. Indeed, without doubt, things have radically changed for the better.
“But the more we have this technology-driven, banking, the more they tend to pop up fresh challenges which also threaten our existence.”
This was the lamentation of Gerald, a man in Lagos who had his three ATM cards stolen recently and his entire live earnings wiped out by a callous thief. He said: “I maintain three bank accounts and have ATM cards attached to each. I always lodge the three cards in a pouch, which I carry about to help me make easy transactions.
“Nearly three weeks ago, I was on my way to Shomolu to transact a business. I stopped over at a bank in Yaba where I made some transactions. But I never knew how the pouch containing all my ATM cards slipped off.
“Because I had a printing job that I must deliver early the next day, I could not go home. So I headed straight to my office to join the rest of my staff.
“Shortly after midnight, I began receiving debit alerts. They were pouring in, in torrents. I was alarmed. When I checked my phone, I discovered that the alerts were coming from all the three accounts. I watched helplessly as each account went down to zero kobo. All the transactions were carried out at an old generation bank on Agege Motor Road.
“The fellow who picked up my pouch had waited till midnight because he discovered that I had made maximum withdrawals for the day before from two of my accounts. Perhaps he targeted to make the withdrawals simultaneously, leaving me no chance of blocking any of the accounts.
“That was how he brought me to ground zero. Till this moment, it’s difficult for me to believe that it happened,” he lamented.
More pathetic were the woes of this young lady, Oby. She had completed her national service two years before now. She stayed at home without a job until recently.
Two months ago, she secured a marketing job at one of the new generation banks with office in Ikeja. It was probably not her dream job, but she had to pick it anyway. The pay was not fantastic. For one whole month, she received no pay. So she had to use the money she had wisely. At the end of August, she was paid her salary which turned out to be her first earning ever. The money was lodged in the account she had opened with her employers. She had received the alert late; she had to go home to inform her parents about her pay and ask for their blessings before making any withdraws.
That night, she was elated that at last, she now had money to withdraw from. But she celebrated early. According to her, the moment she boarded the bus, a young man hopped in and sat beside her. Then, somewhere in the course of the journey, her phone rang. She took the call. Thereafter, she could not tell how she misplaced the set. Not until she got home. She sought for it to no avail. She called her number but it had been switched off. She didn’t suspect that the worse was yet to come. In painful tones, she told the rest of the story.
“When I got to the office the next morning, I narrated the incident to my colleagues. There and then, one of them promptly advised me to proceed to block my bank account before it was too late.
“When I went to lodge the complaint, a check revealed that everything in the account had been used to purchase airtime. ‘But you have used your money to purchase airtime,’ the lady said. ‘What were you doing with that much airtime?’”
Oby recalled that she wept like a baby when she was told the unpalatable story. Every kobo in her new account was gone. She was distraught and rightly so.
“But that was not the end of the story,” she said. “After defrauding me, the fellow scrolled through my contacts. He rang my father and told him that he retrieved my phone. He asked him to either come to no specific address at Mile 2 or ask me to and pick the phone.”
A man who identified himself simply as Tony said having learnt the antics of the fraudsters, all he had been doing was to delete his account balance after every transaction. “I no longer take chances,” he said.
“Each time I receive a bank transaction alert, I memorise the account balance before deleting it. For me, that’s a better thing to do it.”
Chizoba Ikenwa, an Internet Communication Technology (ICT) expert attested that it was very much possible for fraudsters to swindle people using their ATM cards. “It once happened to my uncle in the early days of the ATM card.
One fateful Friday evening, he began receiving multiple alerts until all the money he had in his account was gone. He was advised by his bank to complain to the Central Bank of Nigeria CBN).
He did so several times but nothing came out of it. “But the idea of Bank Verification Number (BVN) which was introduced by the CBN tried to check the fraud to a little extent, same for the maximum daily withdrawal from ATM. But all that has not largely helped.
“Fraudsters don’t require your pin to assess your money using your ATM card. Some of them have this software that can crack the system. It is easy.
“You must recall that right at the back of every ATM card, there are three-digit number, name of the card and its expiry date. With these data, fraudsters can go to online portals to buy things.
“Quite frankly, ATMs in Nigeria are not secured. The system has lots of pitfall. And so, if one loses his or her card, the right thing to do is to call the bank to block the card and deny whoever gets it access.
“If the loss happens on a weekend, one can call the customer service department immediately. There is always a number to call but the problem is that banks have not created enough awareness around these numbers.
“Even where the awareness has been made, don’t forget that many Nigerians are largely ignorant of such. Imagine a market woman losing her card. She might not be able to contact the bank until all her money is gone.”
He disclosed that sometimes some individuals help fraudsters to defraud them.
“If you are around an ATM point, and you invite a stranger to help you sort out an issue, you might be creating an opportunity for them to defraud you. As the fraudster is helping you, he can memorise your card number and one or two other details about it and then go on to clone your card. Using a fake ATM, he can access your money. That is simple,” he warned.