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Mobile Money Fraudsters Very Cunning – Telcos Chamber Warns

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Derek Laryea, Research and Communications Officer Ghana Chamber of Telecommunications
Derek Laryea, Research and Communications Officer Ghana Chamber of Telecommunications

The Ghana Chamber of Telecommunications has issued a strong caution to subscribers of mobile money to start assuming responsibilities of their virtual wallet otherwise they fall prey to swindlers.

According to the Chamber, the current number of fraud occurring with Mobile Money (MoMo) is disturbing and thus the need for people to keep a vigilant watch.

Speaking with the New Crusading GUIDE in an exclusive interview, Derek Laryea, the Research and Communications Officer at the Chamber, explained that MoMo fraudsters have devised various crafty schemes and are ready to visit it on gullible subscribers.

According to him, numbers available to the Chamber indicates that, mobile money operators in Ghana including, MTN Mobile Money, TigoCash, Airtel Money and Vodafone Cash, recorded about 388 money fraud cases in 2016 as against 278 in 2015.

Meaning MoMo fraudsters are gaining grounds and a lot more subscribers are falling prey to their schemes.

Disclosing some of the common schemes known to the industry, the Research officer indicated that one of the common types is the creation of fictitious messages, similar to the original SMS that come with mobile money transactions, to lure unsuspecting customers to pay monies they (fraudsters) have not sent.

This type gets subscribers who do not crosscheck the amount in their wallet at the time of receiving the fictitious message to send their own monies to the fraudsters, Mr. Laryea stated.

Another popular scam he noted is the one which get customers enticed on phone to further hoodwink merchants who unknowingly send monies to the fraudsters at the other end, leaving the customer and merchants to their fate.

Clarifying this trick, he said, fraudsters call customers and ask them to give their phone to a nearby MoMo merchant who would ask him (merchant) to send an amount of money to him (fraudster) and take it from the customer by his side because they are together.

Given that the conversation which ensued between the merchant and the fraudster is not known to the customer, the merchant would have to force the latter to pay monies he has not sanctioned”, he described.

Derek Laryea, pointed out that customers were also suffering from yet another scam where fraudsters lure MoMo subscribers to pay monies for unseen good at the port supposedly sent to them.

He thence suggested the need for awareness creation by the telcos, stressing that the target groups should be consumers, merchants, police and the media.

He estimated that such a move would reduce the ignorance in the country, while deepening the understanding of police personnel to provide timely solutions for complaints.

The Communications Manager recommended that the education should also be extended to the Judiciary services for better adjudication, given that most of the courts do not fully understand MoMo cases that go before them.

The surge in mobile money use and mobile phone subscribers has wetter the appetite of criminals who are running the fraud schemes undetected.

They are coming up with schemes nearly every day, staying ahead of subscribers, the sector’s regulator and mobile phone service providers.

The worst affected are Ghanaians living in rural areas, who are unaware and trust easily, therefore becoming gullible.

Research has shown that Telecommunication giant, MTN controls about 75 percent of the total share of mobile money subscription in Ghana, which means greater part of its customers have falling prey to these fraudsters.

To this end, Journalists for Business Advocacy (JBA) in collaboration with MTN and e-Crime Bureau held a day’s conference to help create the MoMo fraud awareness and educate the vulnerable in the society to be cautious in their dealings.

MTN is taking the message to the doorstep of its soaring customers by touring the country with the awareness creation campaign.

Developing economies including Ghana are relatively under banked but have in the last few years achieved very high mobile penetration rates.

In Ghana, banking started about a century ago, but only about 40 percent of Ghanaians have bank accounts, meaning majority of the population are unbanked. This unbanked population therefore use cash for transactions, excluding them from the formal financial system, i.e. access to savings, bank credit, mortgages, investment and other financial products.

In the last five years, however, mobile money has seen an astronomical growth, drawing thousands of the unbanked households into the financial inclusion net.

According to Bank of Ghana (BoG) data, as at 2012, the total value of mobile money transactions totaled GHS594.12 million. Significantly, as at December last year the value of transactions had reached GHS78.5 billion, indicating that within five years, mobile money transactions has grown by more than 13,000 percent. This is huge and promises a better future.

It is worth noting that the “UK’s Financial Services Authority” has labeled Mobile Money products as having a ‘greater impact than the Internet’ on the lives of users. However unlike typical product offerings from Service providers which involve only cash inflow in exchange for services offered, Mobile Money services far greater risks.

Mobile Money involves direct cash inflows and outflows between external entities such as subscribers, merchants, banks or retailers. Transaction data flow through multiple parties and tracking usage could be quite a daunting task.

The typical mobile (easy access anywhere) nature of the product makes it an attractive proposition for the unscrupulous elements in the user base.

Researchers at Subex Limited, a leading global provider of Business Support Systems for Communications Service Providers noted: “Transactions may have very small values and hence go undetected in traditional Suspicious Activity Reports or High Usage Reports. Given the built-in anonymity and easy access nature of the product, it may even be targeted for terrorist funding and money laundering”.

Communication service providers popularly known in Ghana as telecom service providers themselves are new to financial services as compared to traditional banking and non-banking financial service providers. Thus it is evident that the Service Providers need to deal with far greater risks with Mobile Money products as compared to the products offered hitherto, according to them.

Source: Paa Kwesi Agyefi




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