Nigeria has the largest number of smartphone users in Africa, with up to 40 million users. It is not strange then that it is an important target market for phone fraudsters. There are about 207 million active and registered SIM cards in Nigeria, with 143 million linked to National Identity Numbers as of January 2021.
Fraudulent activities through mobile phones in Nigeria have been in existence since mobile phones got to Nigeria. The format has slightly been modified over the years, but the core intent has not seemed to change. The phone fraudster industry seems to be growing rapidly of late.
If you have never received one of those calls claiming they are from your banks, you would at least know someone who has. Many people have been smart enough to catch up to the fronting; others were not so lucky.
This article looks into the use of mobile phones for such criminal activities and the failure of the Nigerian Communication Commission, services providers, law enforcement agencies, and other relevant authorities in forestalling the propagation of such crimes.
The Rising Menace of Phone Fraudsters in Nigeria
One of the earliest formats for mobile phone scams was to receive a phone call from an “uncle abroad” who wants you to guess his name. The caller would hide their number and call in as a private number. It was easy to fall prey because almost everyone had an uncle “in the abroad”, a fun term for overseas. After a vague conversation about hypothetical people who might be real people to you, they would tell you they sent you a package and some money through someone. You would then be required to send some money to the said person to retrieve the package. They might present with any other believable story that just involves you sending money.
Over time, everyone knew to be wary of phone calls with “private numbers”. Some skits and movies portrayed this criminal scheme. Whenever anyone got one of those calls, they would joke around and waste the scammer’s airtime. This method has significantly reduced, giving way to many other forms and schemes.
The scheme has slowly drifted into the rampant calls from supposed bankers. Not only do they sound rude, condescending, and believable, they seem to have done a lot of homework. They are aware of nearly everything your bank should know about you. They often have a story to end with them trying to help you, and you have to call out the numbers on your card, the CVV, and the expiry date. If you fall prey to this, they will clear out your account without a whiff.
Recently, the Nigerian Communications Commission reported a new Android malware called Flubot has been stealing people’s ATM card details. The app is circulated in an SMS. The malware can read and write SMS, snoop around calls, and expose the contact list. All these happen without the phone owner or the phone knowing because it disguises itself as another app.
Of Agencies, Banks, Service Providers, and Registrations.
No two people have the same thumbprints. This is why thumbprints are very important in forensics and verification processes. Not only do they identify individuals, but they can also be used to track criminal elements.
SIM card and bank account registrations both require your fingerprints for the registration process. The Bank Verification Number introduced an avenue to track funds and transactions across various banks by an individual as the BVN remains the same for that person.
The National Identification Number is a unique number issued by the National Identity Management Commission that identifies everyone who enrols. It is necessary for getting a national identification card and useful in various registration processes.
Through the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the Federal Government mandated all SIM card owners link their lines to their National Identification Number. This move was kicked against by Nigerians who have shown some distrust in the Government.
All active SIM Cards are registered to a particular user. This means every crime committed through phone calls or text messages can be easily traced to an individual. The registration process involves thumb printing, passport photograph, address, and other demographic details. It is only possible that SIM registration centres cut corners such that the identity of the SIM buyer is unclear.
What Can Regulators Do to Forestall Phone Fraudsters in Nigeria?
Greed is not the reason people fall for phone fraudsters. A study by Professor Ayobami Ojebode of the Department of Communication and Language Arts of the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, noted that the success of mobile phone deception is largely the result of deceivers’ skills. This makes every unsuspecting phone user a possible victim.
Hence, we need concerted efforts targeted at finding these criminals. In the light of the rising cases and methods of swindlers using mobile phones, it begs the question of what the regulator bodies are doing.
One of the core purposes of punishment according to criminal law is to serve as deterrence. Deterrence teaches that the appropriate punishment for offenders will frighten other criminal elements or aspiring swindlers. It makes logical sense that an intensified and active hunt for these criminal elements will put this act to rest, or at least, reduce the incidence.
It is true that this would bring about an evolution of crime as swindlers will ultimately develop ways to evade these regulators and law enforcement agencies. It is also true that until they can develop new approaches, there will be some calm in the camp.
It also brings to mind Chinua Achebe’s words in Things Fall Apart, “Eneke the bird says that since men have learned to shoot without missing, he has learned to fly without perching.” This time, the hunter is learning to shoot at Eneke, the bird that has refused to perch.
Nigerian Communication Commission, services providers, law enforcement agencies, and other relevant authorities should read to evolve with the crime scene of the country and develop sustainable solutions and crime-fighting measures that can stand the test of time and change in approach.
Every Sim pack is registered to an individual, same with every bank account. This registration process comes with photographs and biometrics confirmation (thumbprinting). These should make it a lot easier to flag phone numbers and bank accounts used to perpetrate such criminal activities. The owners of these phone numbers and accounts can then be tracked and brought to book.
Recently, there has been a pandemic of swindlers with access to your bank details. It is so disturbing that they have access to all your bank details, including your Bank Verification Number. It is important for such banks to trace such information to find leaks within their systems that these swindlers are exploring.
Contrary to this, it is common to find banks sending disclaimers that might never reach our mothers and fathers or a significant chunk of their customers. Frankly, you would not blame anyone who believes a caller that tells them their Bank Verification Number as it is information only you, your bank, and the Central Bank of Nigeria should know. Banks should plug these information leakages to further cut down on the incidence.
Wrapping Up: What Can Regulators Do to the Growing Incidence of Phone Fraudsters in Nigeria?
Even in the most secure countries, it is not impossible to find acts of crime. However, every country tries to institute new and strengthen existing policies that fish out and punish criminal elements and protect phone users and bank customers from falling victims to these devious acts. Here in Nigeria, it appears phone fraudsters are left to their own vices while phone users try to stay sharp.
Seeing the various agencies and data collection involved in the SIM registration and bank verification process, it is obvious that the only reason law enforcement agencies are not actively after these phone fraudsters is because they are not deploying the available information. Who then should we blame for the rising menace of phone frauds and phone fraudsters? Or is it possible people who register phone lines are sabotaging the registration process? Even at that, it is possible to find out where a SIM was registered and who did the registration.
In addition, it is obvious that information is being stolen from banks. These details are used for targeted schemes. A big question to banks is that what are they doing to forestall this? Have they considered investing in reducing this by plugging the holes in their systems? And shouldn’t they be culpable for not securing the details you left in their care? These are questions we should ask ourselves, regulators, network providers, and banks. Till something is done, remember to stay guarded.