Customers of money deposit banks have continued to rue their experience with regards to the safety of their deposits which have gone missing under questionable circumstances in recent times. Jill Okeke examines the issues
The numbers of bank customers who have lost their hard-earned savings have been on the increase no thanks to bank frauds linked to the nefarious activities of some unscrupulous staff working in connivance with some syndicate outside.
A horse of recall
It may be recalled that The Nation ran an exclusive story detailing the harrowing experiences of some victims who had their bank account compromised and subsequently lost large sums of money along the line.
In the report tagged: ‘Customer’s unending nightmare retrieving missing money from banks,’ independent checks by our correspondent revealed that it was an uphill task for customers to get adequately recompensed after experiencing some infractions arising from mistakes and blunders committed by banks’ staff.
Sharing his experience, one of the victims, Mr. Osita Chiagba said, “Up till today, Access Bank that promised to indemnify me is yet to do so even more than one month after.”
However do you blame the banks when even the government regulators that are supposed to be on their trail are not? Getting the Consumer Protection Department [CPD] of the Central Bank of Nigeria to react to the imbroglio between the aggrieved bank consumers [/b]and the said banks proved impossible. What actually miffed me was the response I got from a colleague in another Media house and a top officer in another Government Agency. Both [b]advised not to contact the CPD as they will hardly respond. Both proved right.
However, ignoring their counsel, I sent an email to CPD on July 22nd, among the questions raised in the email, was “In matters like this, what will they advise consumers to do?” I got a computerised general response that did not address any of the issues raised in the email I sent to them. So if a body like CPD did not show concern towards aggrieved consumers who else would.
According to their official website, “If after lodging your complaint, your bank fails to engage you and resolve the complaint within two weeks as provided for in the ATM help desk circular, you have the right to escalate your complaint to CPD of the CBN”.
According to the Central Bank of Nigeria report of 2021, four banks recorded a whopping 447,405 unresolved complaints, within a period of one year, spanning January 1 to December 2020.
These banks include Zenith Bank, Guaranty Trust Bank, United Bank for Africa and Access Bank respectively.
A breakdown of how the banks individually wronged their customers shows that Zenith Bank had 166,314 complaints that remained unresolved as of December 2021. This figure is almost double the amount recorded in 2020 (83,899); while GTB recorded 673.7m complaints attached to claims of N3.09bn.
While about 672.1m complaints were successfully addressed, with unresolved complaints standing at 1,605 owing to carried-over cases.
In addition, the bank noted that the sum of N365.5m was refunded to customers during the year.
UBA disclosed in its annual report for 2021 that it received a total of 464,391 complaints in 2021, with 461,162 resolved, 3,370 remain pending while 38 escalated to the CBN for intervention.
During the period in review, Access Bank received a total of 2.2million customer complaints. The bank said that 2.1million was resolved but pending complaints carried over from the previous year, brought unresolved complaints at the end of 2021 to 306,116 unresolved complaints out of 2.2m complaints received within the year.
The reports also revealed that the number of unresolved complaints carried forward by the banks in 2021 grew by 172,399 from 305,791 recorded in December 2020.
As of today we do not know to what level the unresolved consumer complaints have reached as the cases are endless because investigations indicate that culpable bank staff are handled with kid gloves by the bank in order not to create a bad image and scare customers from the bank.
Many bank customers have sad tales to tell. The stories are endless. The last two months have been some of the most difficult period in the life of Mrs. Lola Adekanmi, a 52-year-old low-level civil servant based in Abeokuta, Ogun State.
Apart from almost developing high blood pressure as a result of a phony transaction made on her bank account, she has lost considerable weight in the process of doing all she could to survive and recover the money.
A widow with five mouths to feed, the distressed woman, who hails from Ilesa, Osun State, has had it rough since the death of her husband and best friend of over 25 years in 2015.
The distraught woman who has had to toil relentlessly to meet the family’s growing list of basic needs, seeing N71,000, all her savings, vanish suddenly from her bank account on that fateful evening was like the world coming to an end.
“I couldn’t sleep that night. I read the message over and over again, thinking it was an error that would be reversed, because till date, it’s been from one story to another.”
She recalled that she was at a branch of the bank in Abeokuta earlier in the day to complain that she was no longer receiving message alerts on the transactions on her account. “A young man attended to me and he gave me a form to fill,” the 52-year-old said.
“On the form, I was to enter my account number, phone number, email and other information. Of course, I supplied all the information, but then how did N71,000 develop wings and fly out of my bank account that same day. I hadn’t been to the bank for a long time before that day. You know what I think? Somebody in the bank knows about it and they are trying to cover it up.”
The visibly enraged widow told our correspondent, “Some of the officials of the bank tried to persuade me to calm down and they promised that it would be sorted out. I told them I suspected that one of their staff members knew about it. They denied it. But when they asked me the name of the person and I described him, would you believe that they looked at themselves and chuckled.
“For days and weeks, they tossed me up and down a number of times but when I was no longer taking it easy with them and I resorted into shouting and even threatening to go to the press, a lady who had promised to look into it confided in me that the guy who attended to me had been fired because there were similar complaints from other customers that he attended to and they had been able to see that he was complicit in the different cases. But the person assured me that the bank would refund me even though it might take some time.
“Even when I reminded them that they could track the person with the name and account details of the person whom the money was sent to, they simply said I shouldn’t worry, that the bank would sort it out.”
Disturbing as Adekanmi’s ordeal is, it is not peculiar by any means – she is in fact on a growing list of bank customers who have lost huge sums in mysterious ways to bank staff who connive with fraudsters to dupe people of their savings.
In some cases, customers are unable to get any sort of explanation or help from the bank, because most of the banks would rather cover up to protect their image, and in rare cases, they refund the ‘troublesome’ customer who could complicate things for them by running to the press or the social media.
While Adekanmi had been at the mercy of the bank, living in the hope of being refunded someday, in a painful narrative, a fraud victim, Chris Izuegbu, said he got a phone call through an unidentified number and the female voice told him she was Chinyere, his account officer.
He said: “Although I had no account officer because I opened the account on my own, a lady bank staff assisted me in filling the forms and guiding me on what to do. I really appreciated the lady. So, when the so-called Chinyere introduced herself as my account officer, I said, probably, the lady that assisted me assumed herself as my account officer.
The lady on the phone told me that there were some questions I needed to answer. She mentioned my name, account number and my BVN and asked whether she was right, I told her she was right and she quickly told me my date of birth and it was exactly my date of birth. After answering her questions, she now told me to send some numbers on the back of my ATM card, which I did and, in about five minutes’ time, I started receiving withdrawal alerts on my phone. I was hearing noise of withdrawal, and I started calling the number of the woman who claimed to be my account officer, but a man picked the call and told me to call back later. When I told him that the call was urgent and tried to explain to him how over N600,000 had disappeared from my account, he cut the call.
When I tried to call back, the line was busy for over 30 minutes. I had to run to the bank. When I asked for Chinyere, they told me that there was no such person in the bank. When I explained to the bank staff what transpired, they blamed me for revealing my ATM PIN to the scammers. I reported the matter to the police, but the bank is still hiding the identities of those behind the scam.
“The questions that I am asking are: how did the scammers know my email, name, date of birth and so many things about me, if there were no insiders from the bank? Second, if there was no connivance from the bank, why did the bank make things so difficult for the police to track the scammers? They asked for many things such as court papers before they could track the scammers. I am sure and I will swear to it that bank staffers are conniving with fraudsters to steal our money from our accounts.”
To buttress this claim, in an audio message that went viral in the social media recently, a victim whose money was stolen by scammers, was heard conversing with the fraudster who told him that he only took N250,000 from the account. The fraudster was boasting that if he had wanted to remove more than that he could have done so with ease.
It could be recalled that the Nigerian Deposit Insurance Corporation [NDIC] had once blown the lid off the internal abuse and fraudulent practices by some members of staff of commercial banks. It said then that the number of fraud cases that resulted from internal collaboration by bank staff increased from 231 to a total of 320 within one year alone.
The Corporation’s then Head of Communications and Public Affairs, Mr. Mohammed Ibrahim said in a statement that the report of the off-site supervision of Deposit Money Banks showed that the cases of fraud and forgery being perpetrated by bank staff were rising. He said the report relied on the 286 responses received from 26 banks.
He pointed out that the amount involved in the fraudulent activities documented increased from N8.68bn in 2016 to N12.01bn in 2017, representing a 38 per cent increase.
According to him, apart from internet/online banking and ATM card related fraud types, which constituted about 92.68 per cent of all the reported (26,182) cases, other reported crimes perpetrated by these fraudulent bank staff were fraudulent transfers/withdrawals, cash suppression, unauthorised credits, fraudulent conversion of cheques, diversion of customer deposits, diversion of bank charges and presentation of forged or stolen cheques.
In the release, the corporation also chided the banks for not rendering a proper account of the fraud, forgery and similar cases involving members of their staff who were dismissed or whose appointments were terminated on account of fraud. It said specifically that banks were hiding the fraud cases involving their staff.
The statement added, “The 22 licensed commercial Banks and four merchant banks rendered 286 Returns on Dismissed/Terminated staff as a result of fraud and forgeries during the year under review. Out of the 26,182 fraud cases reported by the 26 licensed banks, 320 cases were attributable to internal collaboration by bank staff.
To show that fraudulent practices by bank staff didn’t start today, the then Managing Director of NDIC, Umaru Ibrahim, said in 2016 that banks exposed themselves to fraud and forgery when they assigned sensitive roles to casual workers, who, according to him, are about 25 per cent of the banking workforce.
Apart from casual workers, he identified other factors breeding corruption in the banks to include poor corporate governance and lack of effective sanction of offenders, among others.
The NDIC had expressed worry over the rising trend of fraudulent practices by bank staff, especially in the online banking and ATM card related channels, saying it remained a serious cause for concern.
It is therefore worthy of note that this disturbing trend, which is wrecking the joy and happiness of many customers, is on a steady increase. This is because the reported cases of fraud keep escalating.
Investigations show that most banks do not reveal the identity of their staff involved in such fraudulent practices; neither do they openly accept that their staff was complicit, even in obvious cases. Rather, they quietly discipline (sometimes dismiss) the staff members while they absolve themselves of any blame. And in certain instances when they see that the customer is making too much noise about it, they tend to refund the customer.
Meanwhile, on why banks do not admit when their staff members are involved in fraudulent practices, some sources in some commercial banks told our correspondent that such issues were usually covered up to avoid bad publicity.
“You know it is a competitive market and no bank wants to be seen as having bad employees,” said a management staff in a foremost commercial bank. “By the time there are reports from time to time on catching fraudsters in your bank, it’s not good for you. Some customers tend to feel their money is no longer safe with you, and before you know it, they close their accounts. That is why we make it an internal issue.”
One other worrying side of these bank staff-assisted frauds is that even when customers lodge their complaints and there are traces of where the money is fraudulently transferred to, banks where the transactions originated from are usually unwilling to take it up the case.
The case of 33-year-old Kazeem Oluyode is quite instructive and very painful too. He said N55,000 was transferred from his account and when he complained, the bank initially declined to help, claiming it wasn’t their fault. But due to the intervention of a senior staff member, the matter was now receiving attention.