It has been three years since the Central Bank of Nigeria introduced the Cashless Nigeria Policy. Its aim was to encourage the use of electronic systems for all monetary transactions.
The policy has yielded benefits: it makes many transactions simpler and safer for more people. But there has been an increase in fraud in the banking and payment systems. These crimes are carried out using the information and communications technology that has flourished in Nigeria since the early 2000s.
A 2013 report by the Nigerian Deposit Insurance Corporation identified 14 types of electronic fraud (e-fraud). Automated teller machine (ATM) fraud was in prime position. It accounted for just under 10% of the total value of funds lost to e-fraud and 46.3% of the reported number of cases. The agency’s 2015 report points to an increase in the incidence of ATM fraud in Nigeria.
Despite the apparent importance of e-fraud, little scholarly attention has been paid to understanding how it affects the functioning of the financial system and its impact on victims. That’s why my colleagues and I carried out a study to examine the experiences of ATM fraud victims in south-west Nigeria. We focused on what made a person more likely to be a victim and on the fraudsters’ tactics.
We found that a number of factors predisposed people to being victims of fraud. These include illiteracy, health problems and issues of vulnerability.
An elderly illiterate man who was interviewed said:
I was given an ATM card and nobody told me how to use it. Outside the bank I gave it to a young man at the ATM to help me withdraw cash. He did it and returned my card to me. After a few days I noticed money had left my account, which I promptly reported to my bank. At the bank I was told that the young man had swapped my card.
Our study also showed that close family members sometimes exploit people’s trust to defraud them. One middle-aged man gave his son his ATM card to draw N5,000 (USD $31.25) ahead of returning to school. He later discovered that his son had instead drawn N10,000 (USD $62.50). “If my son could do that to me while I was trying to help him, who can one trust?” he lamented.
When people are ill, they can be vulnerable to ATM fraud. They depend on others because they can’t get around. A “trusted” person may take advantage.
The story of a young man interviewed during our study helps illustrate this. He was ill and gave his ATM card to a friend to help him buy medication. He was later “shocked” to discover that his friend had drawn an extra N70,000 (USD $237.50) from his account.
The coercion factor
Of course, friends and relatives are not to blame for all ATM frauds. Some occur through coercion, particularly physical attacks and armed robbery at ATMs.
One young woman told us:
I wanted to make a withdrawal on a Sunday evening. The ATM on my street was not working so I had to look for another ATM a few streets away. Unfortunately I was robbed by an armed gang. They made me insert my ATM card to confirm the PIN number and balance. They went away with my ATM card and PIN. I couldn’t do anything until Monday, by which time my account had been drained of N200,000 (USD $1,250). They took my phone so I could not even alert the bank and block withdrawals.
The success of online fraud depends on offenders choosing easy victims.
Stemming the tide
Reducing ATM fraud depends on making people less vulnerable.
For example, anti-fraud education campaigns must use indigenous languages and consider that some bank customers can’t read. Banks must show their customers how their cards work and how to get help when in trouble. Security officers who are not bank staff should not be allowed to deal with customers.
ATM users should be taught to change their passwords sometimes. They must also be cautious about when and where they withdraw money to reduce the risk of attacks.