Chioma Okezie-Okeh And Elizabeth Ogunbamowo
Be aware and beware! Operatives of Rapid Response Squad (RRS), Lagos State Police Command, have nabbed a six-man gang that specializes in hacking into the bank accounts of the dead and stealing from them.
Their modus operandi, as disclosed by the police, is to search for obituary posters and pick details they think would help them to hack into the dead victim’s accounts. They include: date of birth and full names of their target. These details are then supplied to their informants in banks who would then furnish them with the other details needed to move funds.
The suspects now in police net were identified as: Osita Nwafor, James Okonkwo, Paulinus Tony Adebio, Anthony Odama, Ogundipe Olufemi Emmanuel and Ikechukwu Nkem. They were nabbed sometime in June 2020, at various locations in Lagos and Edo State. Also arrested was a banker with one of the new generation banks in Edo who, as revealed by investigation, had assisted the syndicate in the past to execute several fraudulent activities.
Acting on a tip-off, our source at the command said that the operatives arrested the suspects while they were at the verge of diverting 200 million naira from a dormant bank account domiciled with one of the new generation banks. They were said to have succeeded in linking the account to their own BVN through the help of the banker. They were about concluding the process of re-activating the account when RRS operatives arrested them.
“The Commissioner of Police, Hakeem Odumosu, got an intelligence report of the suspected activities of these men who pretend to be responsible businessmen but in truth, are notorious fraudsters,” the source said. “He alerted RRS which is headed by Tunji Disu (Deputy Commissioner of Police) to track down and stop their illegal activities.
Luckily, they were able to pick them at a popular hotel located in Iba area of Lagos where they converged to perfect their plans. Investigation led to the arrest of the banker in Benin. The man who has since been sacked by the bank was alleged to have assisted them to link the account to a BVN. It was discovered that no one has withdrawn money from the account for years but on a monthly basis about N200, 000 was being paid into the account from an unconfirmed source. They had to link the account to one of their BVNs when they discovered that it had none.
The banker, on interrogation, admitted to being contacted by the suspects, not only on this account but on various others belonging to dead persons. In his statement denied being an accomplice but insisted that all he did was to assist them with some pieces of information they were asking for concerning the said accounts without being aware of their criminal intentions. The suspects confessed to managing to hack into account of dead persons successfully this way without drawing the attention of the family or bank. “We are still investigating the matter with the hope of finding the other fleeing suspects,” it said. “The arrested ones will soon be charged to court.”
Insisting that no money was withdrawn from the said account Paulinus, during interrogation by the police claimed to be the alleged owner of the stolen SIM card that was going to be used to hack into the bank account. But knowledge of the account came not through obituary posters, as in some of the cases, but through happenstance, according to him.
His story: “I am 29-year-old and from Edo State. After graduating from Auchi Polytechnic where I read Estate Management, I could not secure a good job. I saw working for Nwafor as an opportunity to make small money and add to my business. I normally visit Lagos when the need arises but I live in Benin. Sometime last year a friend told me that he bought a Glo SIM card from a shop four years ago. He was surprised that every month he would receive on it about N200, 000 bank alert. Initially, he ignored it hoping that the real owner would change the number but the alert kept coming for more than three years. He showed me the SIM and I encouraged him to do something about it. It was then that he remembered his friend Nwafor. This was during the lockdown and he gave me plenty money to travel to Lagos and give the SIM card to Nwafor who he referred to as a specialist. We concluded that there is a possibility that no one knows about the account since no one has withdrawn kobo from it in the past four years. Unfortunately before we could perfect the process policemen raided the hotel where we are staying and arrested us.”
Another suspect, Olufemi, claimed that he only went to the hotel to see how possible it was that someone was sending money to the account. “I am 51 and from Oyo State,” he said. “I am currently into buying and selling of cars, a business that I have done for eight years. I do not have a permanent shop; I only hustle for buyers at Berger Yard. Nwafor is my good friend and we used to hang out at a hotel in Apapa. Sometime in June, he called me that there is something strange that he noticed. He showed me a SIM card that was receiving bank alert from UBA. We were still debating on how to handle the matter when police arrested us. We did not withdraw kobo from the account and I swear that police had never arrested me before.”
Nkem, on his part, said that he was picked up because of his relationship with Nwafor. “I was not involved in this matter but because of my relationship with Nwafor, they discovered my chat history with him and concluded that I might be a member. I am a clean guy and I dare any policeman that would say that they have arrested me over fraud or any type of crime.”
But unlike others who vowed for innocence, the last suspect, James his major admitted guilt and said that his job was to get names and phone numbers from obituary posters. “I am from Anambra and I am a clearing agent based in Lagos,” he said. “Nwafor is my friend and, once in a while, we used to hang out to discuss how to make money. During the lockdown things were so hard and there was no job.
“We normally hang out at (name of the hotel withheld) located at Iba area of Lagos. It was during one of such hangouts that they told me about the money that was dropping into that account. We tried but we couldn’t withdraw before police arrested us. We had alerted our contact and he told us that the account does not have a BVN (Bank Verification Number) and was also dormant. We were able to link it up with a BVN and were trying to find a way to make the account active when policemen from RRS arrested us. I swear that we did not collect kobo from the account.”
He further revealed that part of his responsibilities is to search for details from obituary announcement posters. “Normally, most families do not have the details of the bank accounts that their deceased members operate, especially the men,” he said. “Part of my job is to go around town including my village to look for posters and copy their names and dates of birth. With the details our link at the bank can trace if he has an account. Another way is to use the number on the poster to get more information about the person and even account number with the excuse that we are owing him. Another faster way is to swap the number on the account details through the help of our informants in the bank.
“It is easier to rob the dead because as soon as they bury them, their family can now ask for court order to withdraw the money and any amount that they say in the account will be accepted. I am sorry, please forgive me because it is the devil and lack of fund that lured us into the crime.”
The fake bank credit alerts from NCDC
In a related development, findings by Saturday Sun show that with the easing up of lockdowns and shut-ins during the pandemic, many people, bitten by the bad economy bug have resorted to making their living from the sweats of others. They have resorted to using fake bank credit alerts from purportedly the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), whose officials and staff are deeply involved in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, to deceive in order to swindle unsuspecting victims of their hard-earned money!
Victim mistakes it for salary alert
Narrating his experience, Idowu Ojeniyi, one of the victims of the attempted scam, said he had just finished dressing up for work on a Friday morning when the screen of his phone blinked twice and gave a beeping sound. With the month already going to an end, his eagerness to receive alert on his salary for the month made him pay attention to every single message alert on his phone.
But upon unlocking his phone to check the message, he was surprised to receive a different alert from the one he had been expecting. It read: “Congrats, you have received N55,000 from NCDC due to COVID-19; call 07035920502…” He told Saturday Sun that it was when he got to the latter part of the text message that it dawned him that it was a scam. But, all the same, he played along by calling up the number as he was instructed.
He said: “On doing so, the guy at the end of the line asked me to send my account name, my name, and the phone number registered with my bank accounts. But I never did so. The reason is because the person that picked the call, to me, sounded dumb, like someone who didn’t go to school.” Saturday Sun investigation shows that most of the texts come through MTN line and from a lady customer service representative of the fraudsters who went by the name of Juliet.
Michael Ogunyebi said that the moment that he received the text on his MTN number it suddenly dawned on him that he was dealing with a scammer. Ogunyebi who wondered why people are such heartless at a time like this, when so many are hit by economic downturn, recalled that “mine came in the morning and it was a text from a random number. I knew I didn’t have to check my account balance because my bank didn’t send any credit alert to me. But I was really disappointed that some people are still looking for a way to dupe at this time. Everyone is affected by the economic impact of the lockdown and we are all trying to get back on our feet. This is not proper.”
He believes that the strategy is too cheap for any Nigerian to fall for it. He, however, advised everyone to stay smart and be very security-conscious to avoid falling victim to such scam messages. Rauf Babatunde, who got the message on his three phone lines said he knew immediately that they were from scammers. Asked if he followed the “Call to Action” that came with the text message, he said he didn’t call the number because he was sure that NCDC had not released any of such information.
“Even if the NCDC wants to send money as palliatives to Nigerians, I don’t think I’d be asked to call a number,” he said. “It’s a big body and it can easily access people’s account information through the BVN.”
Other victims share their experiences
For Mariam Babajide, immediately she received the SMS, she deleted it without delay. “Why?” she was asked. “I was irritated by the stupidity of it all, that NCDC, of all government financial departments should be the one to take it upon itself to share money to Nigerians.” She added that the fact that the text message came from a phone number lent credence to its fraudulence nature.
Bello Monsuru said that like others he didn’t bother to call the phone number listed out in the message. “Why should I call you again if you truly wanted to send something to me?”, he queried. He advised Nigerians to be wary of the kind of text messages they respond to. Kazeem Jelili, said in his own case, he took to the social media to inform people so they don’t fall victim to the scheme.
Nike Adebimpe who also got the false credit alert said that she knew from the word go that it came from a fraudster. “NCDC can never send a message to you with an unknown number and direct it to another number. They have their own customized line. Aside that, the expression was not too good. NCDC wouldn’t communicate with such a poor grammar. The fraudsters wrote “claim” as “clam”; there were too many basic spelling errors to tell that the message didn’t come from NCDC.”
Ejike Andrew said on receiving the message, he actually placed a call across to the number contained in the credit alert, not because he believed its content to be true but because he wanted to know what would happen next. According to him, the customer care representative asked if his ATM should be upgraded. He now asked some annoying questions which infuriated the person at the other end.
“I really believed that it is a scam because I haven’t heard of anyone receiving money from NCDC and I know NCDC can’t send message like that,” he said. “Whatever it is they sent doesn’t even look like a credit alert. So, when I called, I kept asking several questions for my security but they kept asking if I needed the money or not. When they couldn’t get me to commit myself one or the other, they cut me off in annoyance. And, I haven’t heard anything from them since then.”
NCDC reacts to the scam message
Contacted, the media aide to the NCDC Director, Emeka Oguanuo, told Saturday Sun that the centre has received several enquiries from Nigerians wanting to know whether the message originated from them. He said the centre was aware of the scam and had issued a response in that regard. A copy which the news release which he forwarded to one of our correspondents, reads: “The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) is aware of the misinformation being shared that the Centre will facilitate a relief package for Nigerians in view of the COVID-19 lockdown. The NCDC can confirm that this is completely FALSE. The public is advised to disregard this message and discourage further spread. NCDC’s mandate is to lead in the preparedness, detection and response to infectious disease outbreaks and public health emergencies.”
Speaking further on this development, the Head of Department, Surveillance and Epidemiology Department, NCDC, Elsie Ilori, during a briefing in Abuja, warned Nigerians to beware of fraudsters posing as coming from the centre to defraud unsuspecting citizens. She stated explicitly that the NCDC was not giving money to people neither will it ask for money to offer jobs to people. She revealed that the centre was currently investigating the ongoing scams and promised to bring the culprits to book.