Charity Nwakudu and Tunde Ezu
Agency banking, operated with Point of Sale (POS) machines, is no longer new in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja. It has almost taken over all business outlets in the city.
Despite the charges attached to transacting with POS machines, which differs from place to place, depending on the amount of deposit or withdrawal, residents still prefer the POS business centres to mainstream banks. They said it saves time and the stress of standing in banking halls.
Investigations revealed that the business is lucrative but associated with lots of challenges and risks. It can even land the operator in prison if care is not taken.
Some of the operators told Daily Sun how they lost huge sums of money to scammers who either gave them fake currency or faked debit alerts. At times, they are robbed by their workers or area boys at gunpoint; after the close of work for the day.
Evans Ameh, an agent banker close to Airport Junction, Jabi District, confessed that the business “is very lucrative but the challenges associated with it are making me having a rethink. The business is now the target point for scammers and fraudsters who use fake currency and alerts to dupe us.
“I was in my shop one day doing my POS business when a boy of about 11 years came in and told me that his uncle wanted to send him money for school fees but he did not have a bank account. He asked if I could allow him make a transfer to me so that I could give him cash.
“I accepted and gave him my account details. Instantly, N10,000 was paid into my account and I gave the same amount of cash to him. I never knew he was working for a gang of robbers who held a woman at gunpoint. The money they transferred to me was from her account.
“After few days, my account was blocked. I went to the bank to rectify the problem; to enable me continue with my business. That was how I was arrested and taken to a police station.
“I was accused of robbery and was told that a woman was held on gunpoint, on a particular day, and valuables, including phones, jewelry worth about N500,000 and that the N10,000 transferred to my account was collected from her.
“I was asked to provide my gang members involved in the operation. I told them I knew nothing about the crime, showed them my POS machine, all the details of transactions since I have been in to the business. It was really a traumatic experience because it was not easy to detach myself from that crime but God saw me through. Since then, I have been very careful dealing with people because I don’t want to pay for what I know nothing about. “
Another agent banker, Jonny Olamide, who operates in Area 3 District of Garki, around Apo Junction, who was once an Okada rider, confirmed the business is lucrative but it is now a target for hoodlums and scammers with fake currency and alerts. He said the major challenges associated with the business is the inability to recognise fake currency and security:
“I was into okada business before someone introduced me into this business and it has been great. Most people here in Abuja prefer it than going to the main banks; considering the transport fare from their locations and the stress of waiting on queues before having access to an ATM machine.
“I charge N100 for any amount below N5,000 and N200 for transactions from N10,000; although my charge varies, depending on the amount the customer may want to withdraw or deposit. I also engage in transactions like paying of bills and pay TV subscriptions.
“The business is very good but one needs to be very careful and observant. I was in my shop one day when a man came that he wanted to make a withdrawal. I asked for his ATM card and he said he would transfer so that I would give him the money. I accepted.
“He did the transfer, according to him, but, unknowing to me he had an application that he used to create a fake alert. He showed me the ‘fake’ debit alert, which showed my name and I gave him the N60,000 he claimed to have transferred to me.
“He left shortly after but I never saw any alert with his name. When I tried to reach him through the number he left with me, it indicated ‘switched off.’ I narrated to other associates what happened to me and they asked me if I could recognise the man if I saw his picture. I said ‘yes’ and they showed me a picture of a man on their phone. I immediately recognised him and they said he has done it to several people. At that point, we decided to report at the police station nearest us.
“In their investigation, police discovered that the account he claimed to have paid from had been dormant for years. When I took the case to SÀRS, I was told to bring N50,000 before he could be tracked for me. That was how I left the case because I had spent more than enough.
“The second incident was how a man duped me of N100,000 through fake currency. I didn’t detect it until people I used it to pay started returning the money. Some even wanted to treat me like a common criminal because they felt it was intentional.
“The incident nearly caused me to close shop; if not for the intervention of old customers and neighbours who stood by me. However, I still went and reported myself at the station; for security purpose.”
Another agent banker, Henry Abutu, in Kubwu village, an Abuja suburb, said the business “is promising, although the interest per transaction is meagre but the number of customers can make a huge turnover.”
He added that since he started the business, he has encountered different challenges. These ranged from fake debit alerts to fake currency. The one that affected him most was an attack at gunpoint, after a particular day’ s business. This could have taken his life because it was difficult for him to let go of a bag containing about N400,000 cash:
“The business is good but the challenges make it rough. I will never forget the day I was accosted by some area boys at gunpoint and collected about N400,000 cash from me. I actually arrested a suspect but later withdrew from the case to continue with my business.” He refused to say why he declined to see through the case.
Momoh Yakubu, around Liberty Junction, in Kubwa, agreed that that there a lot of challenges associated with the business but it is very lucrative: “I have lost a lot of money to customers through fake currency and debit alerts. Some of my sales girls even disappeared with my money in some occasions, due to security challenges. To be on a safe side, I don’t keep large amounts of money in my shop anymore.”
Some customers expressed satisfaction with agent bankers; as it has saved them from a lot of stress and dangers associated with withdrawing large amounts of money at banking halls. Veronica Usman, from Angwan Dadi in Nyanya, on the outskirts of the city, said agency banking has been of great help to her. She cannot remember the last time she went to the bank for any form of transaction.
Femi Adeh from Dulse Àlhaji, a long Kubwa axis of the FCT, it has saved him from stress and dangers of ‘one-chance’ robbers: “I cannot remember when last I when to the bank. I no longer go out with my ATM card because of the rampant cases of ‘one chance’ robbers. I prefer using the closest banking agent and their services are very good.”