There is no doubt that mobile cash transfer technology has made transactions easier for people and businesses across the country. When cash is transferred to a bank account, the owner of the account receives a payment notification (credit alert) on their mobile phone from the bank stating the details of the transaction while the payer receives a debit alert.
Sadly, fraudsters have been exploiting this e-payment system to defraud unsuspecting people. How is this done? A fraudster poses as a buyer of goods or services provided by an individual or company. After reaching an agreement on the price, the fraudster opts for a mobile cash transfer and requests the account number of the seller. He configures an SMS bank alert which is sent to the seller’s phone number. This can be done with the use of some web applications or bulk SMS service. Taking the credit alert as proof of payment, the seller releases the items to the fraudster. Mostly targeted are businesses and individuals who have things to sell or offer services (online or offline). Businesses and individuals have lost millions of naira to fraudsters via fake bank alerts.
A case in point is a medical doctor turned professional hacker, Michael Williams, who was arrested by the Lagos State Police Command for buying a ₦28m Porsche car with the use of a fake bank alert. Many fraudsters have used similar methods to dupe people of their property, including electronics, mobile phones, computers, household items, building materials, and even groceries.
Although this form of payment fraud is not new, many Nigerians have continued to fall victims. It is, therefore, necessary to be cautious when receiving payments through mobile cash transfer, especially from unknown persons.
How to Avoid Being a Victim
By now, consumers should know that receiving a credit alert on a mobile phone is no longer proof of payment.
- Before you give anybody your account number to make a mobile cash transfer, make sure you know your balance. When you receive the payment notification, check your new balance to make sure it is correct. Most bank alerts will state the amount deposited, the depositor’s name, and the new balance. Scam bank alerts often do not show the new balance, except there is a conspirator within the bank. This should be a red flag. However, you must know that some banks do not include new balances in their payment notification.
- Most bank alerts appear as a thread on Android phones; that is, the messages appear in a sequence, with the latest alert at the bottom of the thread. So if you receive a credit alert outside the thread, you should be suspicious. This may not be the case if you are using a feature phone.
- It is wise to separate the phone number linked to your bank accounts and BVN from your regular number. If you receive an alert on the phone number not linked to your bank, it could be an attempted fraud. Most fraudsters send fake alerts to the phone number you have been using to communicate with them. To avoid being a victim, do not give the phone number linked to your account and BVN to your friends, clients, customers, prospects, business partners, or anyone.
- Most smartphones can deliver email alerts on transactions in real-time. So when you receive an alert on your phone, go to the email linked to your account to check. If there is no email alert, do not be in a hurry to part with your property.
- Do ATM checks. If you receive a payment notification regarding an item you have put up for sale, dash to the nearest bank ATM to cross-check your balance. If it has not increased by that amount, you can rightfully suspect the alert to be fake. You can also do the ATM check when email alerts are delayed.
- Confirm payments at the bank. When you are selling an item that is of high value, accompany the buyer to the bank to make sure the payment has been made. Confirm at the bank before you release the goods and documents to the buyer. If the buyer claims to have made a bank deposit, tell him to tarry a while for you to confirm payment before parting with the item.
- Download your bank’s Mobile Application for online banking. When you receive a payment notification, you can log into your online account to double-check. If the transaction is not shown there, then the alert received could be fake. A friend recently averted this fraud when someone came to buy her power generator. After the usual price haggling, the customer pretended to have made a mobile transfer, and shortly after she received an alert. However, she insisted on going online to verify the payment before releasing the generator. While she was doing this, the man sneaked out and disappeared. She later realized no money was transferred into her account by the scammer.
- Contact your account officer. It is a shame many people do not know the identity or phone number of their account officer. It is necessary to familiarize yourself with your account officer. If you are in doubt of any payment alert received, you can put a call through to your account officer to help you verify.
Be on the alert and do not take a bank payment alert for what it appears to be; verify using any or some of the ways above to avoid being a victim. The regulators of the banking sector have also been urged to take measures to ensure mobile/electronic transactions are more secured in order to boost the confidence of consumers in the government’s cashless policy.