The past few weeks recorded an unprecedented spike in fraudulent activities of scammers who capitalize on movement restriction that made visit a banking hall impossible for people. Fraudsters indiscriminately bombard phone users with scam texts and emails trying to con gullible targets to divulge personal details purportedly to finalise the transfer of government’s palliatives to citizens to cushion the impact of COVID-19 lockdown. While a few could see through the scam, many, unfortunately, fell for the fraud.
Sharing his experience with Saturday Sun, Ugo Onuoha, a customer of Access Bank claimed that he received a call from an unknown number and the caller informed him he was entitled to N25, 000 palliative from the Federal Government.
“The guy that spoke to me said his name was Felix and that he would forward a code to me which I would have to disclose to him so I can get the money. While he was talking, I could hear someone else in the background on another call saying the same thing, so I knew immediately it was a scam, even the tone of his voice betrays him. I played along and continued listening as if I was interested, and he did send a code through the same Access Bank number that sends me alerts,” he narrated.
Ugo believed the caller was trying to hack his Access Bank mobile banking app.
David Agbejule, a Sterling Bank customer, got a call from an alleged customer care representative of the bank.
“He called me with an unknown number, and the voice said he’s from the bank. I was immediately suspicious because he called with a normal number and he wasn’t even speaking English correctly. He continued by saying that the federal government is giving N30, 500 palliative to people and that he would send a link to me so I can follow the link to claim mine. I immediately told him off and ended the call,” he said.
Stella (surname undisclosed), a UBA customer also narrated her experience. “I got a call and the caller said he’s calling from the bank and that my BVN has been deactivated –– since there is a lockdown, I believed him. He then told me that he needed me to confirm some information, saying he already knew my date of birth (but the date he called was wrong and I promptly corrected him). He also asked me to call out the last four digits of my ATM card and I did. Then, he told me to hold on, that he’d call back shortly.”
Her saving grace was her neighbour who discouraged her from further conversation with the faceless bank officer. “True to his words, he called back to ask more questions, but my neighbour took the call from me and cursed him,” Stella said.
However, not everyone had a lucky escape. Femi Olawuyi recounted the ordeal of an acquaintance who got a call from a fraudster who posed as the branch manager of First Bank.
“The caller claimed he was the branch manager and needed the victim’s ATM card PIN so he could help fix his account. The caller sounded so friendly on phone and this friend of mine willingly released his PIN and bingo, the next moment all he was seeing were debit alerts.”
Occasionally, when fraudsters meet their match, they are wont to lose their cool. That was the experience of Aduragbemi Dare. According to her, the fraudsters sent a code to her phone after which they impersonated bank officials and asked her to call out the code for them.
“I just woke up when the call came in and they said that they sent me a code that they wanted to link my Access Bank account with the account I had in Diamond Bank before the merger of the two banks. I told them no because I never banked with Diamond, so I knew it was a scam. I started insulting him, raining curses on him, and surprisingly, he responded in kind untill I cut the call.”
What baffled her most was that the code was sent to her via the same number Access Bank regularly used to send debit and credit alerts to her phone.
How to beat the scammers
In an interview with Saturday Sun, Stephen Ogbonna, a software developer reeled out some tips on how to identify fake websites and messages to avoid falling victim to fraudsters.
First, he advised against clicking of links especially if the origin is not known. He said: “Most of those links look weird and long with a lot of gibberish numbers; the unwary hardly look at these links, they just click away. The sources of messages should be verified before being engaged; if you don’t find these same stories on the official handles of the banks, the messages are most likely fake. If you must click or register always call your bank first to verify.”
He added: “If you click on links and they are asking for sensitive data, they are most likely fraudsters. Banks don’t ask for personal details over emails or calls––they’ll invite you to the bank. If you click on the link and the site you are redirected to doesn’t have the padlock close to the URL, just know it’s a fake site.”
Stephen also advised that social media accounts should be secured by a two-factor authentication. “If you mistakenly give someone your password and someone tries to log in without your permission, a code will be sent to your phone to verify if it’s really you,” he said.
Frustration from banks’ poor customer service
Aside the nefarious activities of fraudsters, many Nigerians are daily experiencing frustration from their bank, arising from a breakdown of customer service function from the bank.
A few respondents bared their minds to Saturday Sun.
Tunji is a customer of Guarantee Trust Bank who accused the bank of placing a restriction on his account during the lockdown. Most dishearteningly, all efforts to reach the bank had been futile. “It hurts me that the bank just placed a restriction on my account without a prior explanation. Suddenly, I can’t withdraw or even transfer money. I am currently stranded. It’s so annoying. I’ve tried reaching them through their email and phone calls but got no response,” he said.
He noted that a period such as this lockdown is when banks should have effective customer care service to make up for the restriction in movement which makes it difficult for physical access to the bank.
David who operates an account with Sterling Bank also had a similar issue. He had no ATM card and he couldn’t make a transfer from the account, hence, he was forced to call the bank’s customer care representative.
His ordeal: “I called all the numbers on their website, sent emails and all. Whenever I call, someone would pick, ask me all the security questions so they can verify it’s actually me and then the line would go off. I’d call another and the other person would start a new round of questioning. After I exhausted my call card, I would recharge again and start all over. I also got onto one of them via mail, I did all I was asked to do but the issue still persists. Then I went on Facebook and made a comment on their page about how poor their customer service is, only then did they invite me to come inbox.”
The issue was at last rectified after he had exhausted all the avenues available for contacting the bank.
It was during the lockdown that Deborah discovered for the first time that her BVN was not linked to her phone number. “There was a time my phone was stolen and I went to deactivate the number from MTN but later I retrieved it. I never knew my BVN had been disconnected and had not been reconnected to my phone number,” she explained. “During this lockdown, I was trying to invest the little cash I have with me and on the investment portal, I needed to link my phone number with my BVN, I just couldn’t.”
While she had contacted First Bank and GTBank where she had accounts, the issue, however, could not be fixed. In the meantime, the money she intended to save had been spent on other necessities.
Udeme Obong, a customer of GTBank, has a peculiar case. Over the past five weeks, since the lockdown commenced, he has been receiving debit alerts with no description whatsoever for the deductions. “Though the amount is small, but I usually don’t tolerate such knowing fully well that deducting such a token from a million people accumulate into a lot of money,” he said, stating, “I would be visiting the bank once the lockdown is over.”