Investigation

ATM fraud: How banks, police frustrate victims

Bank frauds are as old as the banking system itself. In recent times, however, the Automated Teller Machine (ATM) cards appear to be very attractive to these fraudsters. But how easy is it to track the perpetrators of this fraud and possibly get the stolen monies back? Isioma Madike, who has been following this trend for a long while now, reports

An Automated Teller Machine (ATM) is an electronic banking outlet that allows customers to complete basic transactions without the aid of a branch representative or teller. Anyone with a credit or debit card can access cash at most ATMs. It is convenient as it allows consumers to perform quick self-service transactions such as deposits, cash withdrawals, bill payments, and transfers between accounts.

However, these quick and easy banking transaction methods have, in recent times, become a source of worry to many as fraudsters continue to steal, swap or clown cards from innocent persons, using it to wreak financial havoc on victims on a daily basis. His name is different but he chose to adopt Johnson to protect his identity.

He was attacked by three young men on November 21, 2021, at Demurin Street, Ketu, on his way home from his office about 10.15 pm. After overpowering Johnson, his assailants took his ATM card and other valuables on him. Immediately he got home, Johnson contacted his bank with his telephone, though he is not comfortable mentioning the name of the bank because the case is still on, through its customer care lines and other persons he thought could be reached. But he couldn’t get through to the bank that night.

As he was struggling to get across to the bank, his wife suggested to him to proceed to hospital where he eventually received treatment for minor injuries and trauma caused by the attack. He had his fears, though, that those criminals could tamper with his ATM card before morning. His fears were confirmed a few minutes after they left the hospital. Krinkon, Krinkon, alerts started filtering in.

By the time he summoned courage to check his telephone, he discovered that N157,000 in his account had been wiped out. Incidentally, only N50,000 was withdrawn with the card , with the balance transferred to another bank. “It was just like a film,” he said.

“That was all I had in the account. Unfortunately for me, my house rent of N100,000, which I had planned to send to my landlord was part of it. I was devastated! But for my wife, I’d have done the unthinkable that night. “Even at that, I couldn’t sleep till the following morning. I believe the high blood pressure I’m battling now started from that night. It is one shock I am still struggling to get over since then,” Johnson added.

He said because it was late, he waited till the following morning before reporting the case to the Alapere Police station, which directed him back to the Ketu Police Division since the incident happened within the area of coverage of that station. At the Police station, the officers on duty advised him to approach his bank with a Police report. He did, but his bank, according to him, refused to suspend the beneficiaries’ accounts as he requested.

The bank instead asked him to obtain a banker’s order, a court document that authorises banks to stop or freeze any acc o u n t suspected of having benefited from an illicit transaction. The order, the bank said, is usually procured through a Police report. With the order, he was told, investigators could obtain data of beneficiaries of illicit funds from their banks to ease their tracking and arrest. According to Johnson, his bank told him that it had notified the other bank the money was transferred to of the fraud, but that they could not suspend the beneficiaries’ accounts until he provides a banker’s order.

He agreed to get the order, but the Police officers, who would assist him in getting it, demanded a huge sum as the cost of obtaining it. However, a source at one of the banks told Johnson to forget about pursuing the case because, according to the source, he might end up paying more to the Police, which usually are reluctant about seeing to the end of such cases than they actually lost to fraudsters in an attempt to track the criminals and recover their money.

This assertion was confirmed by another Police source, who stated that such payment includes other costs such as time and other inconveniences in investigating the perpetrators. The above story captures the torture that people whose bank accounts are compromised face in trying to retrieve their money and get the perpetrators face the law.

But, Johnson’s case is not an isolated one. Victory Chimanugor, a graduate of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife, had a similar but slightly different case. This happened a few years ago. She was hypnotised by two men, who pretended to be strangers in the environment on the premises of First Bank, Ogba branch close to Sweet Sensation outlet.

They cajoled her to go get all the money she could get from home. By the time she returned to them, she had collected all the money she could find in her father’s wardrobe, which amounted to N50,000. She thereafter handed both the money and her father’s ATM card to them because they promised to double the money for her. She was taken to Ishaga garage where they asked her to spit on the envelope containing the money and the ATM card. “After that I was asked to go but never to tell anyone what had transpired otherwise I’d run mad. They further instructed me to clear part of our wardrobe and keep the envelope there for three hours.

I left them and did exactly as they instructed me. But after three hours, I went back to where I kept the envelope only to discover pieces of paper instead of the money promised. “That same night my father’s salary, about N168,000 was cleared. They withdrew the money with the card about 1.35am at Access Bank, Iju Station ATM point, and transferred the balance to an account with Ecobank. My father woke up to the rude shock of multiple bank alerts that emptied his salary. It was then he asked my elder brother to help get some money from his wardrobe so he could go to the Police station to report the incident.

“My brother discovered at that point that the money in the wardrobe had vanished and he raised the alarm. As everyone was wondering what was happening, I had to summon courage to narrate what had happened to me the previous day. We alerted the Police at the Area G command and the Commander responded and immediately detailed one of his inspectors in the crime unit and a female corporal to work with us.” Chimanugor said she and her father were going to the Police station almost on a daily basis for six months before they realised that they may never get back the money. She said: “The Police at some point started milking my father by asking him to pay all sorts of fees to enable them to pursue the case. When we contacted Zenith Bank, which issued the ATM card that was stolen, they asked for a Police report, which we got after over two weeks of dribbling by the Police.

It was after we submitted the report that they revealed to us that the money was transferred to Ecobank. “Ecobank expressed its willingness to assist us, but said we must provide a banker’s order before any action could be taken. It was getting the court order that took so long. At some point the Police told my father that they had submitted the letter to the bank and that they were waiting for action from Ecobank. “But when my father checked with the bank, Ecobank denied ever receiving any such letter from the Police. This went on for almost six month and we didn’t know what else to believe from either the Police or the bank.

“My father spent so much money because the Police were asking for all manner of amounts to help them to pursue the case. It also took a toll on my father’s work as he had to miss going to work on several occasions. He even got a query from his office and was at the verge of losing his job before he decided to forgo the money.

It was, indeed, very frustrating.” Meanwhile, Ecobank, through its Head of media, said when contacted that with any fraud they don’t have the power to close the customer’s account when another bank is involved. That, he explained, is why banks are crying out every day to their customers to protect their accounts because they know that the moment fraudsters get details, getting the money back is a very long process. “We can’t just block anybody’s account because the person was alleged to have defrauded another person. The Police must be involved. It is the job of the Police to do an investigation and provide all the necessary legal documents in terms of a banker’s order to protect the bank.

Outside that it’s difficult,” he said. Apart from the above scenario, there are other methods of ATM frauds also. One of such is card swapping. It is a system whereby criminals offer to assist other persons to process their transaction on the machines before eventually switching the cards with the empty ones in their possession without the knowledge of the person. An incident occurred in April 2021, when a young man, who belonged to a fraud syndicate that used to steal bank customers’ ATM cards through swapping, was arrested. According a Tribune Online report, he was arrested by operatives of the Enugu State Police Command and nine ATM stolen cards recovered from him. The young man, identified as Chukwudi Chukwu, aged 25, was said to have been arrested after the Police received a distress call when he was about to be lynched by an angry mob.

It was gathered that the syndicate would use the ATM cards to empty the accounts of unsuspecting customers through the machines of other branches of the bank and sometimes at the ATM points of other banks. Luck, however, ran out of Chukwu when he was discovered to have swapped a woman’s ATM card belonging to a foremost bank (name withheld) after offering to assist the woman in processing her transaction on the bank’s ATM with the intention of defrauding her. The woman was said to have raised the alarm after discovering the act and the alarm she raised made a mob to gather and beat him to pulp before he was rescued from being lynched by policemen following the distress call by a bystander. Other members of the gang were said to have fled, abandoning a tricycle which they brought.

According to a statement by the state police command through its Public Relations Officer, Daniel Ndukwe, an Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP), on the website of the command, during his interrogation, he was said to have confessed to the crime as well as being a member of the syndicate that specialised in swapping ATM cards with non-functional cards. Ndukwe had said: “Police operatives attached to New Haven Police Division of Enugu State Command arrested one Chukwudi Chukwu, aged 25 years, at Chime Avenue, Enugu. His arrest led to the recovery of a tricycle with registration number: ENU 677 WW he and his gang members used for the operation and nine ATM cards of different banks were found on him.

“The man, whose arrest was due to a swift response to a distress call from a citizen and his rescue from an angry mob by the operatives, was said to have swapped a woman’s ATM card after offering to assist her in carrying out transaction on the bank’s ATM, with the intention of defrauding her. “During interrogation, he confessed to the crime as well as being a member of the syndicate that specialised in swapping ATM cards of their victims at banks’ ATMs with non-functional cards, which they used to fraudulently obtain funds from their accounts.” Another heinous practice by cyber criminals is cloning of ATM cards and using them to defraud gullible bank customers.

Many bank customers, according to reports, have lost their life savings to the fraudsters even when their ATM cards are not lost or stolen. You also risk all you have laboured to save if you are unmindful of where and how you use your ATM cards, other reports said. ATM card cloning refers to making an unauthorised copy of a card. This practice is also sometimes called skimming.

Thieves copy information at a card terminal using an electronic device and transfer the data from the stolen card to a new card or rewrite an existing card with the information. Incidentally, cloning and related forms of theft have become increasingly widespread in recent times across the country. Just last year, The Nation newspaper reported a case of a freelance journalist, identified simply as Ayo, who was duped via cloning while preparing for his wedding. While he was busy drawing the items for the wedding, according to the report, his telephone was being hit by messages in quick succession, but he was too engrossed with the task at hand to be distracted by them.

By the time it occurred to him to check the short messages on his telephone, he realised, to his surprise, that they were debit alerts from his bank. The money he had banked on for the execution of his plans had been pilfered from his account. Surprisingly, the message in the debit alert, The Nation reported, indicated that the withdrawal had occurred two days earlier. Ayo’s major shock, the report added, was how it was possible for a third party to withdraw money from his account while he had his ATM card and mobile telephone with him.

He had told The Nation: “When I went to my bank to complain, they searched and found that the money was withdrawn through a modern online payment system. I subsequently reached out to the company and they confirmed what the bank had told me.

They spoiled all my plans. They returned me to ground zero. Where would I start from again?” Meanwhile, a retired Commissioner of Police, Emmanuel Ojukwu, who served as the Police image maker at the Force headquarters, Abuja, under five Inspectors- General of Police, has, no doubt, seen it all in the corridors of power in the force.

Ojukwu, who is versed in operations, administration and training sections of the force, told Saturday Telegraph that in a situation where some of the incidents mentioned occurred, such cases may require help from service providers, bank details and others.

For the Police to have access to bank details, the retired CP said it may require an order from the court, and that it will usually take time. The victim in this case, he said, will go with the Police to the court to obtain the banker’s order but they need to be patient and follow it through. He said: “It is the Police that will go to court so that they can investigate the account. Whether the account of the person who used the ATM or the account of the victims. There is no time limit for such an investigation.

“As much as the complainant cooperates with the Police, and other people cooperate, it can be done in two weeks or run into months. However, there’s no funding for the Police to do all that. So, the victims have to cooperate and help the Police to get these things done.”

 

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