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Fraudulent withdrawals compound Nigerians’ economic crisis, banks lose ground

In this report, TOPE OMOGBOLAGUN writes on the growing spate of missing funds from customers’ bank accounts

It seemed like a mirage when Monisola Adetubu went to bed with N53,000 in her Guarantee Trust Bank account and woke up to a N14,000 balance. She couldn’t believe her eyes. A civil servant, Adetubu, needed to pay for some goods she had bought the previous day.

Adebutu is a pseudo name for the purpose of shielding the identity of the customer who fears that public disclosure of her identity might cause trouble for her.

She still couldn’t come to terms with the fact that she would be shamelessly embarrassed before her newly found customer whose trust she had betrayed. She was expected to pay for her goods on delivery.

After three weeks of visiting the bank back and forth, the wrong debit was not reversed.

“I slept and woke up to see that over N39,000 had been deducted from my account. I was very infuriated.

“Out of anger, I called the GTB customer care numbers but none of them could be reached. I went to Twitter to tweet at the bank and got a response from one of the GTB support groups,” Adetubu recalled.

She explained that a parody account of GTB reached out to her disguising as support and sent her an online form to fill. She had innocently compounded her woes.

Adetubu said, “The moment I filled the form, before I knew it, the remaining money in my account was wiped off. Before I could complain, the number blocked me, so I couldn’t interact with them anymore. It was at that point that I realised I had been swindled by a fraudster.”

Adebutu was left to wander around. She said she had to call some of her friends to send money into another bank account to sort out some needs before going to the bank to lodge a complaint.

Adebutu said a banker told her the N39,000 was blocked in the account and there was nothing they could do about it immediately.

She narrated, “I was distraught when I got to the bank with high hopes that I would get back my money only for me to receive an email from the bank stating that the money was out of their purview and that if I came early they would have been able to do something about it.

“When the alert was eventually sent for the deduction of the N39,000, it showed me that the deduction was made in Victoria Island which is the same address on my account. It’s terribly sad that the security of one’s money in the bank is not guaranteed anymore. It is even more dangerous that people can access such important details as one’s address from your bank records.

“That is highly careless of Guaranty Trust Bank if they claim not to know anything about the disappearance of N39,000 from my account. I have since stopped using the bank.”

More tales of loss

Adebutu isn’t the only victim of such loss. Many other Nigerians have narrated unfortunate tales of how they kept money in the banks and all of a sudden found that their money went missing.

A few months ago, the internet went agog when the video of a man surfaced online creating a scene at one of the branches of Access Bank.

The trending clip captured the moment a man stripped off his clothes in a bank after he was debited with a whooping sum of N1.5m. Apparently frustrated, the man climbed over the counter and hell was let loose.

The bank workers kept pleading with him to take things easy. One of them was heard in Yoruba saying, “It hasn’t got to that.”

The irked man responded that “It’s more than that.”

The man insisted that he wouldn’t leave until he got refunded.

The unfortunate scenario continued at the Oshodi branch of Union Bank where a teacher, Mrs Chioma Nwazubike let out a shout in the banking screaming, “My money! My hard-earned money! I’m finished! Somebody help me!”

The aggrieved woman kept wailing uncontrollably, lamenting that banks were no longer safe to keep money.

The teacher said she was home resting and preparing for Monday’s work when she was alerted by the buzz of her phone. Before she could reach her phone, there was yet another alert. She quickly reached out to her phone to find out who has been sending her text messages only to meet the shock of her life; debit alerts!

“I was just receiving debit alerts of money I didn’t collect on Sunday night. The alerts came four times! I did not use my ATM, I did not visit any PoS kiosk, and I didn’t send anybody messages. I heard the sound of debit alerts on my phone four times, so I had to rush here (the bank), only for them to ask me to go and get a court affidavit before they could do anything,” Nwazubike narrated amid tears.

She went on, “I have an ATM card but I use it myself, my pin is not known by any other person. I don’t have a mobile app on my phone, I don’t use the one they call token either. I only use the Union Bank short code to do transactions. I don’t know what happened. I can’t tell how this calamity befell me.”

The rich also cry

The issue of missing funds isn’t just peculiar to people with little savings. There have been cases of millions of naira disappearing from accounts overnight.

Investigations by The PUNCH further revealed that a lot of rich people have had to go through this trauma, particularly in recent times but many of them were refunded by the bank because of their influence.

According to a source in one of the commercial banks, the very rich and influential people usually don’t come to the public to talk about it, they just reach out to the bank.

Many times, some of them don’t even know about these deductions because they deactivate alerts from their account because of the security issues and the sensitivity of the amounts in their account, the source hinted.

“Some of them do not even know because they don’t receive alerts, it’s only when they probably need their bank statements that many of them find out. Sometimes, they do not even have ATM cards.

“Some roguish account officers often get ATM cards and sometimes they even duplicate by getting extra ATM cards and withdraw money intermittently from such accounts. However, in this case, the culprits are often arrested once the customer complains. But unfortunately for the customers, many of them don’t usually find out,” the source added.

The social media microblogging site, Twitter, was set on fire a few weeks ago when a research chemist, Esther Udoh, a customer at Zenith Bank narrated how N6m disappeared from her account.

She had called on the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission to come to her rescue.

She wrote, “I am calling on the CBN and the FCPC to help me investigate a fraudulent transaction that took place in my Zenith (Bank) account in the early hours of the 21st of October, 2022, thereby withdrawing a total of 6m naira from my account in the space of about 15 minutes.

“I had woken up at about past 1 am hoping to join the #hallelujahChallenge when I discovered this. All my savings, everything I had worked for several years, the porosity of the bank.”

Udoh, who noted that she opened the account at the Idimu branch of the bank, Lagos for the purpose of saving towards a project, said she woke up to the shock of her life on Friday when she noticed six debit alerts of one million naira each.

She added, “To my dismay, I saw not one debit alert, but six debit alerts of one million Naira each amounting to 6 million naira,” she said, stressing that she rushed to the branch but was poorly attended to by the staff.

“On the 21st of October, 2022, I got to the bank at some minutes before 9 am and the unprofessionalism of the bankers put me off. I was passed from one manager to the next until I was passed to this lady here. She kept me waiting for 35 minutes before she told me the bank’s fraud teams were working on it and that I should go. Go? These people portrayed a non-chalant attitude and I can’t let it slide.”

Udoh stated that had not got any concrete response from Zenith Bank on how the money was removed from her account but had petitioned FCCPC (formerly CPC) and payment platform, Paystack, adding that her complaints were acknowledged.

“CPC asked me to file a complaint on their website, which I did. They have taken it up. Paystack traced the account name and number and sent the information to Zenith Bank for further investigation but the bank is yet to tell me something tangible. I need my money, all of it. This is my life’s savings of several years. I work so hard, please help me find a way out of this,” she pleaded.

Udoh was one of the few lucky ones who were able to secure her money back. Many are still lamenting and trying to recover from the effect of the money illegally taken from their bank accounts.

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An actress, Victoria Ajibola, popularly known as Omolocal, also had her own share of the disappearing funds as she lost about N2m to unknown co-operators of her United Bank of Africa account.

Ajibola lamented that she lost N2m within 30 minutes and the bank workers had been totally unresponsive to her predicament. She further narrated that when she went to the bank to complain, she was chased out by security officials.

PoS as conduit

The PUNCH observed that complaints from victims are almost the same pattern. They got an alert of a PoS transaction and the money would be untraceable.

Adebutu recalled that she got an alert one week after, indicating a PoS deduction.

She said, “I got debited from a PoS point in Victoria Island Lagos and I haven’t even been there in years. How I was able to do a transaction in VI is what I don’t understand. Worst still, I live alone, one would have said that somebody stole my card from the house. The perpetrators of this evil act usually strike at night or when banks have closed and one cannot easily make complaints.”

Also, a teacher, Mr Daniel Chukwu, recalled that he was debited from his monthly earnings through an ATM from a GTB bank in Sokoto.

He lamented, “I don’t have an ATM card. I am an old man and usually go to the counter to do my transactions. I don’t have much (money) to be using an ATM card.

“To my surprise, I suddenly got a debit alert of N60,000 from a PoS point. The alert came in around 8 pm, so I waited till the following day. I got to the bank, and lodged complaints but they were so unconcerned about my plight.”

Dearth of competent techies

Some sources in some of the commercial banks lamented that there was a brain drain in the banking sector and many of the banks were not willing to employ more hands but would rather make them double the work being done.

The source said that some branches often deploy some of the contract workers in the marketing team to have access to some software that allows them to have more information on customers’ accounts.

The sources added that although they couldn’t tell if that was the cause, there have been a lot of incidents since banks began to operate such system.

Another banker confided in our correspondent that most customers were usually careless with their details particularly while using the PoS machines as many criminals were now involved in the business.

The source stated, “Some customers are usually careless with their card details, particularly with these online banking. Many of those platforms are usually not safe.

The banking industry in general is seriously suffering from attrition risk; risk of losing highly skilled professionals, especially in the tech field and now there is a high possibility of these jobs being handled by infant engineers such that the security system of the bank may not be sufficiently protected or secured against external access.

Expert wades in

An information technology expert, Olugbenga Odeyemi, noted that the recent incessant cyber attacks on financial institutions are a reflection of the global economic outlook but the issues are in multiple folds. He stated that customers need to ensure that they have a card safety on e-commerce platforms.

He said, “If you have ever used your card on any online platform, your details could be compromised from that source leading to debits on your account. I have experienced this firsthand but didn’t lose money because of early detection. I still get transaction attempts that I didn’t initiate on one of my cards till today, but I don’t leave money in that account so I’m not worried. I recommend the same to Nigerians like me who can’t do without online transactions. Simply get a card for online transactions only and never fund it until you need to make a payment.”

Odeyemi, who didn’t exonerate the banks, also noted that the issue of poor staff welfare contributed to the disappearing of funds from customers’ accounts.

“Banks have reduced the quality of staff they hire and also reduced staff welfare. People who are paid poorly are open to a lot of temptations, especially those who handle money. You can’t continue to declare billions of naira in profit while those who handle transactions for you are unable to live comfortably,” he noted.

The IT expert also urged banks to invest more in customer education rather than championing various programmes that did not drive the vision of the banking industry and other finance-related projects.

Odeyemi noted, “Rather than banks spending so much money on fashion shows and tech summits, I think it will benefit their customers more if they spend more resources on customer education and support. My bank bombarding me with emails about how to wear my sneakers or about the latest fashion trend is annoying and ridiculous when they’re failing at basic banking services.

Odeyemi further advised banks to invest more in technology; a process he said had been compounded by the ongoing exodus of IT professionals from the country.

“However, the banks’ survival depends on it. If a stolen card is used on an online platform, that platform must refund such payments, cancel the services subscribed for and suspend the account that used the stolen card. This is the standard in developed countries and Nigeria should work towards this. A financial system without trust will not stand the test of time,” he added.

Also, a financial analyst, Gbolahan Ologunro noted that such deduction can be attributed to a number of factors from both customers and the banks.

He said, “For example on the part of customers, once you link your card details to a number of online vendors or suppliers, you also run the risk of your debited multiple times for a single transaction.

“The more you have those vendors linked to your account, the more you will experience such deductions that the banks might not be privy to.”

Ologunro explained that the moment a customer initiates a transaction because of the efficiency in the banking system, particularly with regards to switching, the bank has no control over such.

However, the President National Union of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institution Employees, Anthony Abakpa, said that the issue of unauthorized bank alerts, said such an issue could be judged in two parts; it is either the bank platform is faulty or the clients compromised their personal Identification number; that is the pin.

He said, “It only means that the banking system is compromised or the people carelessly gave out their pins to be able to allow people to get into the account and take their money. So, individuals need to take responsibility for their pin, their pin is their signature.”

Abakpa emphasised that the bank platforms should ensure that there is a better security control system like the two-step verification to be able to ascertain the identity of the owner.

He added, “The banks should work an OTP in order for them to do the second level of checking the authenticity of the account owners. Once they do this, fraudsters will run away.

Banks, CBN mum

Efforts to get comments from the banks proved abortive as they were evasive despite the long notices before the publication of the report.

When our correspondent reached out to the Head of Corporate Communications, Zenith Bank, Ayoola Kusimo, he stated that he was at an event and would be available to talk but he has since then refused to answer any of the calls by our correspondent or replied the text messages that were sent to him.

Also, the Head, Media and External Relations, United Bank for Africa Plc, Nasir Ramon, never answered his calls every time our correspondent called, and nor did he reply to the message sent across to him.

Like her colleagues, the chief corporate officer of Guaranty Trust Bank, Oyinlade Adegbite told our correspondent that she was at a meeting when she was reached to help unravel the mysteries behind the incessant disappearing of funds.

Till production time, Adegbite had refused to answer her calls or reply to the text messages sent across to her.

The text messages sent to the banks read, “My name is Tope Omogbolagun. I work with PUNCH newspapers. I would like to get your comments on the allegations made by customers that funds are disappearing from their accounts and your bank has been unable to provide solutions or refund their monies. Thank you.”

An attempt to get apex bank to proffer solutions to the issue was also unfruitful as the spokesperson, Osita Nwanisobi, who answered the call of our correspondent claimed to have been busy when he was called and has refused to answer his calls subsequently or replied the text message sent to him.

The message read, “Good evening, Mr Osita. My name is Tope Omogbolagun, I work with PUNCH newspapers. I have been trying to reach you ever since. Please, I am working on a report on the missing funds in the customer’s account. Please what is CBN doing to help customers and to arrest the situation generally? Are there sanctions for the banks? Thank you, sir.”

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