From Adanna Nnamani, Abuja
Cyber terrorists or internet banking predators are the most deserving names to call bank alert scammers who have become a thorn in the flesh of Abuja residents in recent times.
Like ruthless killers lurking in darkness in search of prey in the jungle, these online fraudsters stalk and attack their victims online and offline using fake bank credit alerts.
The modus operandi is simple. They often pose as customers in busy shops where they purchase goods using the mobile app or USSD transfer method. Then, a fake debit alert hits the scammer’s account, while the seller receives a fake credit alert purportedly from his/her bank.
Since the shop may be quite busy with customers milling around, the payment point staff may not have the time to call the bank to confirm payment. More so, it may be a dusk sale when banks have closed. Again, the mobile app may not readily function to determine the account balance.
Since the store cannot afford “to lose customers”, it takes the risk by trusting the customer’s fake alert, especially if it is a familiar face. The shop owner only becomes emotionally scalded hours later when he or she discovers the fraud.
This is one of the nightmares players in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) finance ecosystem are contending with. The ugly development is beginning to put a strain on the ease of doing business and cashless economy. The victims have sworn never to accept other forms of payments than cash.
Many superstores insist on PoS or cash payments. No more transfers allowed. The fraudsters have left tales of woe on the lips of the victims.
According to cyber security experts, the advent of internet banking and the introduction of diverse electronic payment methods for the ease of doing business comes with its own challenges. The worrisome flipside to this technological advancement is its susceptibility to electronic fraud. Worse, with low internet penetration amid a high level of cyber illiteracy, the scammers have a deep pool of victims to feast on.
A fake bank alert victim, Mrs Victoria Ngwu, a grocer, almost suffered a heart attack when she lost N17,000 to a young fraudster who cloned her bank alert: “It was a Saturday evening. I just returned from Wuse Market where I went to restock my shop.
“I had barely arranged the goods when this young man came to buy some things. There was nothing to suggest he was a criminal. He looked so innocent and responsible but that was the decoy to disarm his victims.
“He spoke gently and respectfully purchased items worth N17,150. To make him come back again, I discounted N150 and asked him to pay N17,000. He claimed he had just N750 cash with him and opted to make a transfer. He even said he would not leave until I get the credit alert. I gave him my bank details.
“Less than three minutes later, he got a debit alert and within a few seconds I got a credit alert. I thanked him profusely. To me, a successful transaction had taken place but how wrong I was.
“Since it was a Saturday and I did not have a bank mobile app, there was no other means to confirm other than to trust the gentleman. It was the next Monday that I went to deposit cash after weekend sales and checked my account balance only to discover there was never a N17,000 transfer.
“I know I marked his face because he has this deep scar on his left cheek but I’ve never set my eyes on him since that day.
“At times, you get an alert but it won’t immediately reflect. Again, I think I just saw the credit alert and that was it. Since there could be other alerts, I can’t immediately ascertain the account balance until I close and take my things to check things out.”
Ngwu has shut her door against mobile transfers. She prefers cash purchases, the security implication notwithstanding.
Another trader, Mr Abu Audu, a fruits seller stopped accepting payments through bank transfers when he lost N11,000 to fake alert criminals. He said it was the Ramadan season and a customer came to him to buy baskets of fruits to break the fast.
“He bought bananas, dates, watermelons and oranges. He said he had no cash and since it was a holy season, I thought I should trust him. He made the transfer and I got the credit alert SMS. That was it. The SMS never reflected in my account balance. I still have the message on my phone but I don’t have my wares. They’re gone. I lost terribly. I have not been totally healed but in God I trust.”
A commercial driver, David Ogbonna, said he has encountered fake alerts numerous times from passengers. He said many of his colleagues had the same traumatic experience: “Passengers will claim to make a transfer and thereafter, show you evidence but you will never receive the money afterwards.
“Because we have to go pick other passengers we usually do not have time to wait and ensure we see the money first and such passengers are always pretending to be in a hurry. We will try calling them severally using their contacts from the app but they never pick our calls.”
Shockingly, there even exist some phony websites that are teaching people how to execute fake alerts in Nigeria without being caught. One of the sites, smartlazyhustler.com says: “There are two popular software for fake bank alerts to dupe any client.
“It is advisable to download the app for fake bank alerts than the one for software. It is just like creating a fake bank account online, but this time, you can’t deposit money. All you can do is use your text message to create a fake bank alert as a deposit alert to your phone.
“The app for phones can be carried around, and it can look like a regular mobile bank app. Most of them even come in red and orange colours, just like bank apps.”
Police told Daily Sun that several fraudsters were arrested in recent times in the FCT and were being prosecuted. Last month, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Abuja Zonal Command, said it arrested 15 suspected internet fraudsters.
The suspects were apprehended within Brick City and Kagini in the Kubwa axis of Abuja, Federal Capital Territory, on August 19, 2021, following intelligence on their alleged involvement in cyber-related scam.
The suspects were Benjamin, Emmanuel, Ibrahim, Taiwo, Oko, Uchechukwu and Reginald. Others included Jerry, Athnetus, Michael, Ebube, Ikechukwu, Izoduwa, Augustine, Morrison, Stanley, Victor, Ibrahim, Nnaka, Chikezie and Ifendu.
Items recovered from the suspects included two cars, five laptops and 13 mobile phones.