Monday, 30 October 2017

Ghanaians worried over growing mobile money fraud

Adnan Adams Mohammed

In recent times, most users of the mobile money services have complained of fraudulent activities on their accounts.

This has generate a lot of concerns from the public including regulators, service providers and the criminal investigations.

However, mobile money regulator, Bank of Ghana (BoG), has alluded the overwhelming growth in mobile money wallets/accounts, over the last two years, as the main attraction for fraudsters.

Director of Payment Systems at the Central Bank, Dr. Setor Amediku, disclosed that currently there are over 22 million mobile money accounts as against 11.6 million regular bank accounts.

He noted that whereas the huge growth in mobile money wallets has boosted the country's drive towards greater financial inclusion, wallet holders have not been able to keep up with the technology so they have also become vulnerable to more sophisticated fraudsters.

Dr. Amediku was speaking at a Mobile Money Fraud Forum as part of the ongoing Cyber security Week in Accra.

Days before the forum, mobile money fraud became a topical issue following a damning revelation by the police that merchants and staff of telcos are involved in the fraud but the telcos were protecting them.

Also, the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) of the Ghana Police Service, is accusing Telecommunication companies of not cooperating with them in their attempt to address mobile money fraud.

This follows an internal inquiry by the CID which revealed that, some staff of telecommunication companies are complicit in the act.

Telco staff are reported to, without authorization, access the database of mobile money merchants, and change the registration details of customers in order to withdraw money from their accounts.

The Director in charge of the Cyber Crime Unit of the Ghana Police Service, Chief Superintendent Dr. Herbert Gustav Yankson, told Accra based radio that, “during investigations, we have observed that apart from the data that is incorrect, we have situations where we’ve seen that staff of telcos are part of the syndicate.”

Reports indicate that, the staff who are in league with criminals, sometimes reset the number with the money to a new owner in the database, which gives the new owner access to change the PIN and withdraw monies. They then acquire new SIM cards and use the pins to withdraw monies from merchants.

Initially, the fraudsters could send a text or call, and tell subscribers that they have won some lottery so they should send them money to claim their prize.

The moment subscribers send the money, the fraudsters withdraw it and get rid of their SIM so that subscribers can never reach them again.

Their recent strategy is to call subscribers and tell them that, there is a problem with an account, and offer to help resolve them.

Supt. Dr. Gustav Yankson expressed worry that managers of some mobile telecom operators do not give the necessary information to the police concerning suspects in mobile money fraud who work in the telcos.

“We had series of issues where we have written to them [telcos] that ‘from this case we suspect that someone within who is helping the criminals to do the job, and can you find out from internal investigations?’ Something they wouldn’t answer to, or they will come and tell us that they’ve done the investigation, but they will not tell us who is behind the act. They [telcos] will tell you to go to court,” he lamented.

Following the revelation, the telcos have come under heavy public criticism for allowing illegal registration and activation of SIM cards used in committing such fraud.

Mobile telecom operator, MTN Ghana has announced the comeback of the ‘Cash Out’ feature which is to be launched on November 4, 2017.

The feature enables mobile money customers to select ‘allow cash out’ before an agent can initiate a transaction.

Speaking at the press briefing in Accra, last week, Business Development Manager, MTN, Abdul-Majeed Rufai indicated that mobile money agents should not record subscribers’ numbers in the transaction sheets as they have issued new transaction booklets so as not to disclose numbers of the subscribers.

“We are bringing back that feature that will allow the customer first and foremost select allow cash out, turn it on, before an agent can issue the transaction” he said.

“Hence forth, agents should not disclose subscriber’s number on the transaction sheets. We have issued them transaction booklets not to disclose the number of the person who is loading so that once you go to an agent point, you can’t even get the number, let alone call the number” he added.

Meanwhile, MTN Ghana says sanctions given to some agents caught in mobile money fraud is the decommissioning of their stalls but so far, none has been sent to court.

MTN is also introducing an Agent Registry which is to sanitize agents’ network in the country. Other telcos will have access and contribute to the Agent Registry to prevent agents whose stalls are decommissioned from shifting to another network to operate.

Analytics, Budget & Reporting Manager, MTN, Solomon Hayford mentioned that ‘’Once an agent is blacklisted from MTN or any of the other telcos that information will be on that agent registry and will prevent that agent from coming on board on any other mobile money service providers network, once you are blacklisted you are blacklisted for the whole industry you cannot operate mobile money anywhere else in Ghana any other service provider and that initiative is been ran by the central bank’’.

He however added that there are systems being used to monitor and track the activities of fraudsters as well as locate their whereabouts within the country.

Also, Dr. Amediku has said, since the BoG replaced the Branchless Bank Guidelines with the Electronic Money Guidelines in 2015, the growth in mobile money has been overwhelming, but now it is time for stakeholders to collaborate to stem the emerging fraud on the platform.

He said BOG has a number of detective and preventive regulations to ensure the platform is safe and secure, adding that they are also putting together a Mobile Money Merchants Map to capture the location of the over 100,000 agents across the country.

This, he said, would make it much easier to trace any fraudulent activity to the particular merchants involved, particularly with the new digital addressing system in place.

Dr. Amediku also mentioned that next month, interoperability of the mobile money platforms is expected to take off, and that will reduce the cost for both telcos and customers, and also promises to boost the safety and security of the platform.

He explained interoperability means money can be transferred directly from a wallet on one network to a wallet on another network.

"This means that merchants will need only one device to do all transfers, while customers will be free from the high cost of generating a token when sending money from one network to the other," he said.