• CBN, others warn customers
Cosmas Omegoh and Olakunle Olafioye
The activities of scammers are on the rise everywhere in the country. The scammers are mainly stalking bank customers’ accounts by adopting different baits their unsuspecting targets can fall for. Once they succeed in getting hold of their target’s bank account, they swiftly sweep every kobo in it, leaving their victims with pain and anguish.
How scammers operate
Scammers send phony sms to bank customers’ cell phones, claiming to be bank officials working on their accounts. They tell a customer about an imaginary challenge on his or her account. They demand the customer’s ATM or BVN number. Some of them dictate numbers on their unsuspecting targets’ details and proceed to ask them to read out the rest to them.
Some of the fraudsters it is feared operate within the banks. Those believed to be working from outside sometimes send sms to individuals who do not and have never maintained accounts with a particular bank. Some of their messages sound real and believable. With that, they get the naive ones cheap.
There are the audacious fraudsters. They put calls to their potential targets, claiming to be top bank officials working for their good. They demand details from their victims. And once they get what they want, they proceed with the kill. The victim is wrecked.
Testimony of victims
A lady, Onome, (not her real name) was recently sacked by her company and given N1million cheque as pay off. After days of sulking at home, she decided to lodge the instrument into her account.
Days after maturity, she received a call one afternoon from a man pretending to be working to ease her account.
According to her brother, Mark, “as I was stepping into the house, I heard my sister having a telephone conversation with a caller. I was alarmed when the caller told her that she might not be able to make withdrawals unless she supplied some details about her account. Then, she quickly went for her diary to read out the right figures.
“It then dawned on me that she was dealing with a scammer. So, I quickly snatched the set from her and demanded why he was asking for the details. I told him to mention his bank’s office so that she would come over and rectify the problem. Then the caller screamed ‘you‘re a fool’ and hung up,” he said.
For Mr Bolaji Oladele, an auto mechanic, the timely arrival of one of his clients saved him from losing his savings to a fraudster. The fraudsters had claimed to be a manager in Oladele’s bank.
The customer who was on his way to keep a midday appointment had to make a quick stop at the mechanic’s workshop after he heard a strange sound in his car. But more than five minutes after his arrival, Oladele was still making a frantic phone call and would occasionally call out some codes which the person at the other end was ostensibly dictating to him.
But the client who was obviously losing his patience following the mechanic’s prolonged phone conversation became curious when Oladele brought out his ATM card and began to reel out some numbers to the caller. He approached the auto mechanic and signaled to him to end the conversation after which Oladele revealed to him that he was conversing with the manager of the bank he operates an account with. It soon dawned on him that he was few seconds away from losing all his money to a fraudster.
Like Oladele, Lawal Adesola narrowly escaped being duped by a fraudster who identified herself as Mrs Ellen Bello and claimed to work at the Marina branch of another commercial bank on May 29, 2020. The caller with phone number 081-6099-9678, baited Adesola with a claim that he was eligible for the cash being distributed by the Federal Government to cushion the effect of the Coronavirus-induced lockdown. The caller then asked Adesola to read out the number on his ATM to her. Adesola, however, informed her that his ATM had expired.
“She asked if I operated account with another bank and I answered her in the affirmative. Again, she asked me to dictate the number on the bank’s ATM which I did. But I became suspicious when she asked if I had another bank account with ATM, but I said no. While the conversation lasted, I received five different OTPs on my phone,” Adesola revealed, adding that, “luckily for me, I didn’t have money in the account, whose ATM number I dictated to her.”
But not many Nigerians who had encounters with fraudsters disguising as bankers have stories of lucky escape to tell. Mrs Aminat Mustapha is one of such. The mother of two said she was yet to get over the loss of her savings after she ignorantly disclosed sensitive information about her bank account to a fraudster who claimed to have called from her bank. “It happened at a time I was expecting some money from somebody. Then I received a call from a male caller who claimed to be from the customer care unit of my bank. The person said he was trying to resolve an issue on my account and that I might not be able to make withdrawals or receive money into the account until the problem was resolved. He then demanded I provided some information on the account, which I did. But moments later, I began to receive debit alerts until my account was totally drained. I lost the entire N64, 000 in the account,” she lamented.
The stories of Oladele, Adesola and Mustapha are very familiar. Millions of Nigerians who operate accounts with commercial banks in Nigeria can relate effectively with such spurious calls from scammers who claim to be bank officials, with the unlucky ones falling for the bait and losing their money. Those who are lucky to detect and fend off fraudulent characters may be quick to dub the victims who fall for fraudsters’ antics as gullible.
Various accounts of victims of bank scam show that the fraudsters often prey on their victims by supplying baiting information which often give the impression that they are relating with genuine bank staff. For instance, Oladele who narrowly escaped being scammed said he was baited with a recent issue which prevented him from using his mobile banking application. “Recently, I had issues with the settings of my mobile app which was quickly resolved when I lodged a complaint with my bank. So, I sensed no danger when the person called me and instructed that I needed to avoid a repeat of the issue to prevent my account from being blocked by the bank. He later offered to help when the process was getting too complex for me and asked for certain information, which I was supplying before someone around advised me not to discuss issues concerning my bank account with anybody on phone.”
It is all about cybercrime. According to NortonLifeLock, “cybercrime is any crime that takes place online or primarily online. Cybercriminals often commit crimes by targeting computer networks or devices. Cybercrime can range from security breaches to identity theft.
“Cybercrime continues to evolve, with new threats surfacing every year.
“When you hear and read about the range of cybercrimes out there, you might be tempted to stop using the Internet entirely. That’s probably too drastic.
“Instead, it’s a good idea to know how to recognise cybercrime, which can be the first step to helping protect yourself ….”
According to Tope Aladenusi, head, Cyber Risk Services, Deloitte West Africa in his 2020 prediction, “many attacks in 2020 will move from big ‘well prepared’ organisations to the seemingly unlikely targets, especially companies (and individuals) who are of the notion that they are not prone to cyber-attacks or do not have enough resources to attract any attack.” And now, it is happening.
Banks losses in 2018
According to Nigerian Deposit Insurance Company (NDDIC), in 2018 alone, the banking industry lost N15.15 billion to cybercrime and forgeries, adding that fraud and theft in the sector were on the rise.
It attributed this trend to “Internet and technology-based channels and instruments.
“The increase in the sophistication of fraud-related techniques such as hacking, cyber-crime as well as IT-related products and usages, fraudulent withdrawals and unauthorised credit are the sources through which the perpetrators operate.”
With the activities of scammers on the upward climb, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) recently issued a fraud alert, warning members of the public to beware of the activities of scammers. It warned that scammers were taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic by sending spurious sms to their victims, claiming that the Federal Government was giving out palliatives. And through that, unsuspecting members of the public gave out vital information about their banking activities and ended up being scammed.
CBN’s Director of Corporate Communications, Isaac Okoroafor, said: “The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) wishes to alert the public that cyber-criminals are taking advantage of the current “COVID-19” pandemic to defraud citizens, steal sensitive information, or gain unauthorised access to computers or mobile devices using various techniques.”
CBN noted that its priority “is to ensure that Nigerian banking customers are aware of the ongoing trend to prevent them from falling victim to such cybercrimes.
It outlined some of the cyber-criminal activities as phishing campaigns. “Cyber-criminals send out emails claiming to be from health organisations such as the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) or the World Health Organisation (WHO). The email may contain a link which, if clicked, steals login credentials or other confidential information from the victim’s computer or mobile device.
“Relief packages: Cyber-criminals have also been sending messages via social media or emails asking people to click on links to register in order to get their COVID-19 relief packages from the government or other organisations. They simply use this to get confidential information from unwary victims. Relief package scams also come in the form of phone calls asking people to provide their banking details to receive relief packages.”
It also identified other strategies as impersonation. “Cyber-criminals place calls to individuals claiming to be staff of their banks and asking them to get mobile apps that would help them get through this pandemic period. Such mobile apps are, however, used to steal information from the victims’ mobile phones among other things. Criminals have also produced COVID-19 maps, which steal information in the background.
“To ensure that bank customers and citizens do not fall victim to these cyber-crimes, please observe the following precautions: Beware of and verify emails or phone calls claiming to be from NCDC, WHO or government, especially when such emails request your banking information or to click on a link. Visit official websites of relevant organisations for desired information;
“Avoid clicking on links or attachments in emails that claim to have more information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic;
“Avoid downloading mobile apps from untrusted sources; and obtain relief package or other information from trusted news media.
Why cyber fraud is rising
A banking expert, Umaru Ibrahim said that “the root causes of cybercrimes are not far-fetched,” lamenting that “Automated Teller Machine (ATM) cards and Web Based (Internet Banking) frauds have contributed significantly to fraud cases in the Nigerian banking system.”
He added that “one only has to take a quick glance around the society to observe illicit wealth acquisition and its display. This is coupled with the fact that, the perpetrators are highly exalted. The problem is made worse by the high youth unemployment, the absence of enforceable prohibitive laws and the general laissez faire attitude of individuals and businesses regarding cyber security.”
He noted that “evidence has also shown that, a significant proportion of these crimes are perpetuated by people in their youthful age.”
He identified “high unemployment, quest for wealth, poor implementation of cybercrime laws, quest for wealth, and inadequately equipped law enforcement agencies, negative role models, poverty and gullibility/greed as some of the causes of proliferated cybercrimes in Nigeria.”
Ibrahim particularly fingered corruption as the major contributor to cybercrime, regretting that “people celebrate wealth without questioning the source of such wealth. It is common to hear of people with questionable character and wealth being celebrated in society. This misguided disposition towards wealth encourages the get-rich-quick mindset that can be pursued through cybercrime.”