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Mobile Money FRAUD: the new trick and how to stop it

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Mobile Money, fraud

I was recently informed by very reliable sources that a former mobile money staff of one of the telcos, who is currently service a jail term at Ankaful Prisons for working with a click of fraudsters to steal from mobile money customers is still at his criminal ways while in jail.

The guy is allegedly still providing vital information and tricks to fraudsters on how to beat the system, get customer information and manipulate victims into losing their guards so they could be defrauded.

Indeed, the latest trick they are using now clearly shows that the brains behind it is more than just someone skilled in social engineering. This is someone who knows more than the average fraudster and he is using his privileged knowledge and skills to help fraudsters manipulate the system and people.

More details about this particular jailed fraudster and his kind are gradually unfolding. But it is important to remove the vail on the new trick so that all of us will be aware and stay on guard.

Not long ago, myself and my wife got pop-ups on our phones around the same time, asking us to APPROVE the transfer of GHS150 each from our wallets to a separate merchant wallets. Of course we did not. I reported the matter to MTN and provided the details of the pop-up. A very helpful MTN staff did some checks and came back to me and said the pop-up on my phone came from the POS (point of sale) device of one of their merchants and that it was an anomaly. What they could not tell was which of the merchant’s workers initiated the transfer on the POS device from my wallet remotely.

Anomaly or Deliberate?

The MTN staff told me the anomaly had been addressed so I just left it there. But I also mentioned the issue to some other colleagues of mine on a WhatsApp platform and several persons on the platform said they got similar pop-up messages from various merchants. The critical issue here is that all the pop-ups came from different merchant POS devices and not from the same POS device, so the excuse that it was an anomaly from that particular merchant who tried to take my money was untenable.

This is where I sometimes get worried with how telcos handle some of these issues and the kind of feedback they give to customers. And that is how fraudsters are boldened and they keep doing it and getting the gullible few who only get to know about this tricks after the fact – when they have already been defrauded. The telcos are daily cautioning customers about fraud, which is good. But if they would be honest about some of these specific issues we report and heighten the caution to the public when such issues come up, rather than saying it is a mere anomaly, it will help all of us.

The JUMPED trick  

In mine, and my wife’s cases, they just sent pop-up messages for us to approve a transfer from our own wallet. But the new trick they use now, I am told, is called JUMPED.

What they do is they send you a small amount of about GHS10 or GHS20, and quickly initiate a withdrawal of a bigger amount from your wallet remotely. So, if you try to go into your wallet to check your balance, once you dial *170#, the first thing that comes up is a pop-up message of a pending APPROVAL of a transfer from your wallet. If you don’t watch careful and key in your PIN, they will steal your money easily.

So in fact, the fraudster makes a real deposit with his number into your wallet – it’s not a fake deposit. But the problem is that right after he makes the deposit, he launches a withdrawal on your number. How they initiate a withdrawal from your number remotely, is a trick that could only come from person(s) who have worked in the mobile money space before or still work in it. It is understandable if a remote withdrawal is initiated from a POS device or a merchant number. But from a personal phone number is still something that beats my mind. And that is where the guy in jail and people like him come in.

How to stop JUMPED

The key requirement here is vigilance.

1. When you receive cash, never enter you wallet via *170# and dial your PIN to check your balance. Just open the SMS notification and check if the cash received has actually been added to the money on your wallet. If you are not sure, wait for a long while before you actually use *170# to check. Don’t rush. When you rush you crush! Remember that.

2. When you dial *170#, remember your only aim is to “CHECK BALANCE”, which means you have select number 6. My Wallet, then 1. Check Balance, before you key in your PIN. Apart from that, any other pop-up that requires your PIN should be ignored and be reported to your service provider.

3. The other trick you can adopt to beat the fraudsters is when you receive a deposit, and that APPROVAL pop-up comes, just type in the wrong PIN and that will cancel all withdrawal requests, before you check your balance with your real PIN later on.

Telcos used to deny that their staff were involved in the mobile money fraud problem. But the police recently expressed worry over how telcos put stumbling blocks in the way of the police when they are closing on criminals in the midst of the telcos. The last time, at a forum by the Ghana Chamber of Telecommunications, the telcos openly admitted for the first time that they have caught and penalized criminals in their midst quietly. When I asked why they did not do “naming and shaming”, their spokesperson made an analogy which I thought was fair, that all organization catch and punish wrongdoers in the midst all the time, but it is usually done on the quiet because of the implication it may have on the reputation of the entire organization. It is understandable, but let’s know that some of the criminals who launch attacks on our mobile money wallets are telco staff or former telco staff.

With that said, let’s all be vigilant because you never know what the next new trick will be.

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