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Tracking bank fraud perpetrators in Nigeria could cost victims more than they lost

...Banks won't suspend accounts of fraud beneficiaries until they get court's order


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VICTIMS of bank fraud in Nigeria can pay more than they actually lost to fraudsters in an attempt to track the criminals and recover their money, findings by The ICIR have shown.

The payment includes other costs such as time spent and other inconveniences in investigating the perpetrators.

Tale of Lagos fraud victim who lost N370,000

The story of Grace Aderinola (not real name) who lost N370,000 in her accounts with Zenith and Access banks to fraudsters on January 14, this year captures the agonies that people whose bank accounts are compromised face in the country.

Aderinola was attacked by some armed men on January 13, around Ifako-Ijaye, Ogba in Lagos state when she went to buy household needs around 8 pm.

After overpowering her, her assailants snatched her phone and took other valuables on her. She immediately contacted her banks through their customer care lines and other persons she thought could be reached through her phone.

But she couldn’t get through to the two banks that night and later proceeded to hospital where she received treatment for trauma caused by the attack.

She then reported the matter at the Area G police station, Ogba, the following Monday and then headed to her banks to check her accounts. At the banks, she discovered that all the N370,000 in the accounts had vanished.

In her banks’ statements seen by The ICIR, N170,000 was transferred from her Zenith account to Kuda bank account 2002928595, operated by one Bankole Johnson Abayomi. The fraudsters then wired N101,000 from her Access account to the same Kuda account.

Another N99,000 was transferred from the Access account to another Access account number 1415028881. The account belongs to one Felix Kunle Oke.

All the transfers were made on the 14th of January, as revealed by her account statements.

The fraudsters also borrowed N13,500 from the victim’s Zenith bank account and went further to call her with a phone number 09029915687,   promising to return the phone to her. That was after she had discovered, through her account statement, that a phone number 08167008800 had been recharged with her zenith bank account.

They told her to come for her phone at Haruna Bust Stop, Ifako Ijaye. She went there, but the men did not show up. They also did not answer her calls. She left the bus stop after waiting for hours.

She told The ICIR that the incident had brought her life to a halt. “I have nothing on me again; to feed myself has been a problem for me since the incident happened. My siblings are in school; I couldn’t pay their school fees or provide food for them,” she said.

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Police demand N70,000 for court order 

She said officers at the Ogba Area G police station advised her to approach the beneficiaries’ banks with a police report. She did, but Access and Kuda refused to suspend the beneficiaries’ accounts as she requested. They instead asked her to obtain banker’s order, a court document that authorizes banks to stop or freeze any account suspected of having benefitted from an illicit transaction or against which a judgment has been awarded over-indebtedness among others. The order is procured through a police report.

With the order, investigators can obtain data of beneficiaries of illicit funds from their banks to ease their tracking and arrest.

According to Aderinola, Zenith bank notified Kuda and Access banks of the fraud, but the banks could not suspend the beneficiaries’ accounts until she provides a banker’s order.

She agreed to get the order, but the police officers who would assist her in getting it demanded 70,000 as the cost of obtaining it in Oyo state.

The ICIR independently found out that the order could not be procured in Lagos, but Oyo state.

N70,000 not too much to get order outside Lagos  – Police command

While the victim argued that 70,000 naira was “too big for someone whose account had been emptied” to pay for a banker’s order,” CSP Muyiwa Adejobi, Lagos state police public relations officer thought otherwise.

He said he had received calls from people in the state over police requests for payment for the order.

He said courts in Lagos state no longer issue the order, stressing he didn’t understand why it had been so.

He said if any police officer chooses to help members of the public get the order, his demand for transport cost and other logistics should not be mistaken for exploitation, adding that public members who feel they could not afford the cost should get the order by themselves. He said anybody who needs the order could apply for it through a police report and it’s not only police officers that could obtain it.

He said the public should instead appreciate the police officers who volunteer to risk their lives on the dangerous Nigerian highways such as Lagos-Ibadan expressway to obtain an order that persons who need it could get by themselves.

According to him, if police officers choose to charter commercial vehicle from Lagos to Ibadan, pay for modest accommodation and feed, and return to the nation’s commercial hub, N70, 000  would not be too big to foot those costs. He said drivers of most chartered vehicles going on such a journey could charge as much as N50, 000, depending on the part of Lagos state where they are taking off from.

Adejobi said there is a need for public enlightenment on the order’s procurement, noting that members of the public who feel the police cheat them could go to court to obtain it.

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He also frowned at the difficulty faced by the public in procuring the order.

The ICIR findings showed that the order could be procured with N20,000 by police officers on Oyo state.

A police source who pleaded anonymity told The ICIR that coming from Lagos to get a banker’s order in Oyo state “should not be considered legally appropriate” because Oyo state is another jurisdiction.

“So, to my knowledge, anybody coming from Lagos to Oyo usually works with the police in Oyo to get the order. In most cases, it’s not something one can apply for in one day and get.

“You have to go through the police here, make some settlements and even bribe some of the high court officials, so they can quickly process it for you. Only the high court judges give the order here in Oyo,” the source stated.

The ICIR further learnt that abuse of the order in Lagos state compelled the state government to suspend its issuance. Lower courts, like magistrates, were issuing it before in Lagos before it was stopped.

Kuda, Access, Zenith bank speak.

In a terse message mailed to The ICIR by Kuda, the bank expressed its willingness to assist any bank that communicates any illicit transaction in its customers’ accounts at any time. But, that might not be until the banker’s order is provided, as these victims claimed the bank rejected police report and emails from her bank notifying it of the fraud.

Access bank, which spoke with The ICIR through one Mr Emmanuel at its customer care desk said the victim had to obtain the banker’s order before it could suspend the beneficiary’s account of the fraudulent transfer.

“We don’t want to carry out the wrong action because sometimes, some people carry out erroneous transfers and we’ll not be able to perfectly capture the case until police or court can give us the detailed breakdown of what happened. If she confirms to the police or the court that she lost her phone, she is talking under oath. She will provide that information to us. We will use the court order to act.

“But, if she is unwilling to provide that information, the banker’s policy in which blocking an account has heavy implication on banks, will not allow us to carry out that action without legal backing.”

He explained further that there are instances where people do business together, and in the course of payment, they disagree. One party would want the bank to close the order’s account in a bid to retrieve the money already paid into the account.

He said in a circumstance whereby a bank wrongly suspends its customer’s account; it will pay a heavy price.  “If we destroy that person’s business, we are the ones to pay 100 percent full cost,” he stated.

Similarly, through Ayoola Kusimo, Head of its Corporate Communications, zenith bank said the bank could only act whenever it gets the banker’s order.

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“Anything fraud, we don’t have the power to close the customer’s account when another bank is involved. We can’t compel Access, Kuda or any other bank to do anything. Let the police be involved. They know what to do.

“That is why banks are crying out every day to their customers to protect their accounts. We do this all the time on social media, newspapers, and other media because we know that the moment you allow fraudsters to get your details, getting your 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, not the job of the media,” as he condemned the involvement of the media by this victim on the matter.

He said bringing issue such as this to media’s attention “is not even newsworthy,” but the police, who should carry out investigations, should be allowed to do their work.

Experts react

Meanwhile, Uche Uwaleke, a renowned finance and capital market professor, told The ICIR that there is little the bank could do in the matter without an order from a court of competent jurisdiction.

While sympathising with the victim, the president of the association of capital market academics of Nigeria and a former commissioner of finance in Imo state, said the practice had to do with the age-long bank’s duty of secrecy or confidentiality which he said could only be waived in four circumstances where it is in the interest of the bank; it is by the consent of the bank customer; it is under compulsion of law, and it is the interest of the public.

Read AlsoINVESTIGATION; How online fraudsters feed on greed, naivety of victims in Nigeria

“The 4th condition (where it is in the public interest) is usually a tedious process most times involving the courts. You can see why it has been very difficult for the Nigerian government to recover stolen funds stashed in local and foreign bank accounts.

“As a matter of fact, Section 13 of the Money Laundering Act 2011 permits the EFCC to place any bank account under surveillance, but this is again subject to a court order.

“So, in my view, the bank position is in order as it is only trying to follow the law and avoid liability. Sadly, the court order has to be obtained in faraway Oyo State,” the associate professor of accounting & finance and head of banking & finance department at Nasarawa State University Keffi said

Tola Akinmutimi, a seasoned journalist and former business editor of Daily Trust Newspaper concurred with Uwaleke.

He said banks need the court order before the beneficiaries’ accounts could be suspended.

He urged all bank account holders to protect their accounts and ensure their phones and other devices are protected with a password.

He advised that in no circumstance should anyone save their account pin, bank verification number and other sensitive codes on their phones, laptops and related devices.

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While sympathising with the lady, he urged authorities vested to investigate such cases to do all within their powers to apprehend the criminals behind the act, after the bank order had been procured.

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