Bank customers at the mercy of fraudsters

ecfc untitled x
ecfc untitled x

Insights

By Christopher Oji

Bank account holders are now at the mercy of advance fee fraudsters in Nigeria. They may wake up and find that money, ranging from hundreds of thousands to billions of naira, has disappeared from their accounts.

Become a partner with USA companies, promote their offers and get paid in US Dollars weekly, Nigerians are earning about $465 weekly. Click here to see how you too can get paid .

The rate at which fraudsters remove money from bank accounts is becoming so alarming that Nigerians want the Federal Government to wade into the matter, as it has been proven beyond reasonable doubts that the fraudsters are aided by some bank staff and service providers who furnish them with dossiers and information about bank account holders.Untitled10 14 Untitled11 12

A few weeks ago, Magnus Nweke, who had an account with one of the new generation banks in Nigeria, got more than he bargained for, as N2.2 million out of the N3 million that he saved in the bank disappeared.

He said: “I opened the account with the bank so that I would be able to save some money. Safekeeping was the sole reason I banked the money, because banks don’t give loans, except you are well connected in Nigeria. The banks can only cheat and collect charges, but we have no power to sanction them. I wasn’t really bothered about the small charges, but I was shocked that such a whopping sum was removed from my account. The bank is not helping issues, and they are still hiding the identity of the people who took my money.”

In a painful narrative, a fraud victim, Chris Izuegbu, said he got a phone call through an unidentified number and the female voice told him she was Chinyere, his account officer.

He said: “Although I had no account officer because I opened the account on my own, but a lady bank staff assisted me in filling the forms and guiding me on what to do. I really appreciated the lady. So, when the so-called Chinyere introduced herself as my account officer, I said, probably, the lady that assisted me assumed herself as my account officer. The lady on the phone told me that there were some questions I needed to answer. She mentioned my name, account number and my BVN and asked whether she was right, I told her she was right and she quickly told me my date of birth and it was exactly my date of birth. After answering her questions, she now told me to send some numbers on the back of my ATM card, which I did and, in about five minutes’ time, I started receiving withdrawal alerts on my phone. I was hearing noise of withdrawal, and I started calling the number of the woman who claimed to be my account officer, but a man picked the call and told me to call back later. When I told him that the call was urgent and tried to explain to him how over N600,000 had disappeared from my account, he cut the call. When I tried to call back, the line was busy for over 30 minutes. I had to run to the bank. When I asked for Chinyere, they told me that there was no such person in the bank. When I explained to the bank staff what transpired, they blamed me for revealing my ATM PIN to the scammers. I reported the matter to the police, but the bank is still hiding the identities of those behind the scam.

“The questions that I am asking are: how did the scammers know my email, name, date of birth and so many things about me, if there were no insiders from the bank? Second, if there was no connivance from the bank, why did the bank make things so difficult for the police to track the scammers? They asked for many things such as court papers before they could track the scammers. I am sure and I will swear to it that bank staffers are conniving with fraudsters to steal our money from our accounts.”

To buttress this claim, in an audio message that went viral in the social media recently, a victim whose money was stolen by scammers, was heard conversing with the fraudster who told him that he only took N250,000 from the account. The fraudster was boasting that if he had wanted to remove more than that he could have done so with ease.

The victim was overwhelmed when the fraudster told him: “You just got an alert of N900,000 a few hours ago. If I had wanted to remove the money, I would have done so. But I reasoned that you are just a struggling man and I pitied you. If you doubt me, I will remove the money now and you can’t do anything. Out of the N250,000 that I removed from your account, I only took N100,000 and the bank manager got N100,000, while my boys shared N50,000.

“You call me a fraudster, but I am doing my business. I don’t know you and I am not a magician. So, how did I get your account details, your dossier, BVN and PIN? My brother, I am not ashamed to tell you that I work with bank managers who provide me with information and there is nothing you can do about it.”

Another victim, John Udoh, told our correspondent how he was swindled of his life’s savings in less than one minute. Udoh said: “On the fateful day, I was preparing to go to work when I received a phone call from a lady who claimed to be a bank staff. The lady told me that I had issues with my account and she wanted to rectify certain things. She said someone was trying to withdraw money from my account and she wanted to know if I was the real owner of the account. I told her that I was the owner. She said, if I was the owner, I needed to answer certain questions. She asked about my date of birth, some numbers on the back of my ATM card and my BVN number. After answering the questions, she told me that she had rectified the problems and wished me all the best. Immediately I dropped the phone, I started receiving debit alerts and in less than one minute they had withdrawn all my savings of N600,000. I was saving to buy a shuttle bus (Korope), as I was planning to resign from the salesman’s job that I am still doing, but my dream was shattered. Well, I am begging the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Nigeria Police Force to do something urgently, beam their searchlight on banks and their staff. There is no way that all these will be happening without insider connection.”

For Jessica Nkasiobi, 63, the banks should be held responsible, as they do not help their customers in times of distress. She said: “For instance, the banks should educate their customers on what to do to secure their accounts and what to do if they fall victim. I was a victim of fraudsters. I am an old woman. I used to do my withdrawals inside my bank, till they warned me to pick up my ATM card as they won’t be attending to me in the banking hall because I always withdrew meager amounts. Well, I picked up an ATM. The first day I went to use the ATM, I could not do the transaction. So, a man who saw me struggling with the machine offered to assist me with the transaction. I can’t still explained what happened, as the man did some magic and got out N10,000 for me, and I was so happy. Some minutes after I left the premises, I started getting debit alerts, but I didn’t know what to do. The fraudster collected all the money in my account. I didn’t know how to stop the fraudster from stealing my money.

“The following day, I went to the bank to lay complaints and I was blamed for giving out confidential details to a stranger, who swindled me. The bank staff said I should report the matter to the police, who told me that they needed a court order to get the identity of the person who swindled me. They said the court order should be obtained from Ogun State, as they no longer did it in Lagos.

“The police asked me to bring N100,000 to enable them get the court order and track the fraudster. Well, I quickly told the police that I only had N98,000 in my account out of which N90,000 was stolen. The policemen started taunting me. So, I left everything like that.

“There is no justice in this country. There is no synergy between the banks and our security agencies and that is why a lot of people are being swindled every day. We are really suffering in the hands of fraudsters conniving with bankers to rob us of our hard-earned money.”

Recently, the Lagos State Police Command arrested 38-year-old Gboyega Michael, the suspected leader of a bank fraud syndicate, which was allegedly involved in the transfer of money from customers’ accounts in a first-generation bank (name withheld) through the connivance of a banker.

Michael was arrested four months after the police began looking for him.

It was gathered that a female banker (names withheld) whose password was used to access a customer’s account details lodged a complaint with the Lagos State Police Command that she was falsely accused of fraud in her office. The owner of the account, who was based in London, United Kingdom, had complained to the bank when he discovered that money in his account had been depleted.

The police commissioner reportedly forwarded the petition to the Rapid Response Squad and, the following day, four suspects were arrested. Those nabbed included Ezurike Peter, 35, who was a staff of the bank in which the account of the victim was domiciled, Ayo Olalekan, 32, Ochenehi Israel, 31, and the gang leader’s wife. A manhunt was also launched for the syndicate’s leader, Michael.

The syndicate’s modus operandi, according to police sources, was to increase the limit of a bank customer’s account after Peter, who was an insider, would have got the customer’s details and phone number using his colleague’s password to access it. The phone number of the account holder would also be blocked temporarily from receiving debit alerts while the limit of his/her financial transactions would be upped to N200,000.

To achieve this, a syndicate member, Israel, would go to the bank where the targeted account was domiciled to fill a form to increase the daily limit on the account. He would drop the form, saying he would be back. Once the name and phone number tallied, the bank would act, not knowing that the account details had been compromised by their staff.

Advertisement

To ensure that the owner of the account did not suspect anything fishy, the syndicate would have jammed the line of the owner so that he or she would not have signals on his phone to receive debit alerts.

Israel was said to be very skilled in his role and the members were gleaning N200,000 daily from customers, which was usually shared equally, with each member getting N50,000.

They were said to have taken N600,000 from an account in three days and N2 million from another in 10 days.

Michael also reportedly used his wife’s account to save his share of the loot. The syndicate’s leader, who had been on the run, was eventually arrested.

In an interview, Michael confessed to committing the crime but gave reasons for his action. The suspect said: “It is true I was arrested in connection with fraud. I joined the syndicate after I was also defrauded to the tune of N4.7 million. Some people approached my auto shop and said they wanted to buy a car. They paid me with fake dollar notes. Later, they told me they were a syndicate and what they did was a game.”

When asked whether he was in the habit of collecting dollars as payment for cars purchased from him, Michael replied that he wanted to help the ‘customers’ change the money to naira.

“I also got bank alerts that indicated payment of cash into my account, in addition to the dollars. I believed that the transaction was successful, so I handed the car over to them. It was when I got to the bank that I was told that the dollar notes were counterfeit.

“I had nothing again. Along the way, I saw a friend called Harrison and he brought me into the (fraud) business. He said, if I followed him, I would see how the business was done. We did the business on mobile phones by transferring money from an account in one bank to another. It was usually achieved through an insider, a friend of mine, Peter, who worked in that bank. I told him and he said we should go ahead. I have now learnt my lesson,” Michael said.

A senior police officer at the State Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department (SCIID), Panti, Yaba, Lagos, told our correspondent that the police were doing their best but the fraudsters were improving in their strategies: “If I tell you that we have apprehended many of the fraudsters, you may not believe me. If I also tell you that we have up to 20 bankers in our cells arrested for fraud and other criminal cases, including robbery, you may not believe me.

“Recently a man was shot in the eye by an armed robber. The man was coming out of the bank when two robbers operating on a commercial motorcycle accosted him. They told him that he withdrew N900,000, the exact amount of money that he actually withdrew from the bank. Immediately the man came out of the bank, he divided the bundle into two, put one in the pigeonhole and put the other bundle under the driver’s seat. When the robbers accosted him, he gave them the one in the pigeon hole and bent down to pick the one under the seat. Probably thinking that the man wanted to pick a weapon to attack them, one of the hoodlums shot him in the eye. How did the robbers know the exact amount that the man withdrew, or was it through magic? A bank staff passed the information to them. We have picked two of them from a new-generation bank that is highly rated and respected. We have many of such cases. The same way that the bank staff passed information to the armed robbers, that is the way they give out information to scammers.

“Banks are employing criminals. When you interrogate the bank suspects, they tell you that they were not happy counting and protecting other people’s money when they receive peanuts as salary. Some of them are even on contract. Banks are not ready to do business the way business should be done. They employ all manner of people without checking their dossiers. They don’t want to contact the police for background check of their staff.

“As we are beaming our searchlight on banks, we are also doing the same with service providers. They also connive with criminal bankers and fraudsters, especially in sending fake alerts to victims of fraud. We also have about six of them in our cells.

“I would advise members of the public to disregard certain messages that they won one thing or the other, they have money to pick for COVID-19 palliatives or that their bank accounts has one problem or the other. They should always visit their banks to crosscheck certain things.

“I think the EFCC is doing well in the fight against Internet fraudsters, but because of lack of jobs, the number of criminals, especially fraudsters, keeps swelling by the day. That is why government should do something urgently about job creation. If nothing is done about job creation, the country is doomed. If you can reason with me, ritual killing is on the increase and it is because of the high rate of unemployment. All the suspects interrogated on any crime, especially fraud and ritual killings, blamed their actions on unemployment.”

Security expert, Mark Chidozie, said the rate at which bankers and staffers of service providers are involved in crimes, especially aiding and abetting fraudsters, has reached embarrassing levels such that the Federal Government must wade into the matter.

Chidozie said, if urgent measures are not taken, many people will be discouraged from keeping their money in the bank: “The attitude of our bankers is becoming discouraging. If the Federal Govenment should keep mute and does not take urgent measures to stem the high rate of fraud in our banks, people will start keeping money at home and this is against government’s drive for cashless economy.

“I, for one, am suspicious of our banking system. How can one keep money in the bank and still be having high blood pressure because anything can happen to his or her money in the bank? The worrisome aspect is that the fraud is being done with insider connection. What a shame!

“I won’t mention the name of one bank, but it is always in one problem or the other. The bank is always involved in fraud and the management is not bothered. It is either it is taking N50 or N150 from peoples’ accounts or customers are complaining of one fraud or the other. The agency in charge of banks, Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation, and other agencies in charge of crime, especially fraud, like the police and EFCC, should step in and beam their searchlights on banks and our service providers. They are killing our people.

“Many people have developed high blood pressure and many others have suffered stroke for depositing money in the banks. Imagine how a person who has his or her life’s savings in the bank will feel when he or she discovers all of a sudden that the entire savings have been stolen by fraudsters. The shock could be devastating.”

A senior police officer that also spoke on the condition of anonymity said there was a case he investigated where a female bank staff, an accounting officer to a certain wealthy man, was stealing the man’s money and sending him fake alerts.

One day, the banker went on leave in preparation for her wedding, “the man kept calling his accounting officer for days, but her telephone was switched off. So, he decided to visit the bank. On getting to the bank, he met another person in place of his accounting officer, and the new woman told him that his accounting officer was on leave.

“The man asked her to check his account balance. Instead of N190 million, his balance was N150 million. The man started an argument with the lady and this attracted the bank manager who intervened only to discover that the victim’s accounting officer had been using his N40 million to do business and was sending him fake alerts. The woman was arrested and she confessed that she was doing business, giving loans to people and receiving interest, without the bank’s notice.

“We are investigating many such cases, but my finding is that they commit some of the crimes in connivance with bank managers. How come, with all the complaints, the managers look unperturbed? In fact, the bank managers always want the matter to be resolved and, once they start preaching that because of lack of job and not to expose the banker because of system risk and so on, we know that the bank manager knows something about the fraud. Well, they know how to rob Peter to pay Paul.”

Meanwhile, Lagos State police public relations officer, CSP Adekunle Ajisebutu, said the police were doing their best, but fighting fraud was complicated, as it was between two persons and the victim only could report when it has happened.

He said: “It is when the victim reports that we take action. We have arrested many of them but I can’t give you the statistics or number of arrests and prosecutions made. But, to be candid, we are doing a lot. My advice is that members of the public should verify any information they get in the social media before they engage in whatever business proposal or questions.”

On his part, spokesman for the EFCC, Mr. Wilson Uwujare, said the commission and banks have done enough enlightenment and even put advertorials in the dailies to educate the populace that whenever they receive such fraudulent messages about bio data, they should disregard the messages and visit their banks.

“Don’t listen to the story people tell you and don’t give out information to fraudsters. No bank will ask customers for the information the fraudsters are asking for. Banks could send emails, but always visit your branch when you receive some messages. As for arrests, we don’t joke with the arrest of criminals, whether they are bankers or anyone. We are doing our best. We have arrested many, prosecuted them and even secured convictions,” he said.

Advertisement