Although bank and mobile money fraud is not a new phenomenon in Cameroon, many Cameroonians have reported a spike in the number of such incidents in the last couple of weeks amid the partial coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) lockdown in the country.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic in Cameroon, the two main mobile money companies (MTN Cameroon and Orange Cameroun) announced the suspension of charges for mobile money operations so as to encourage more electronic money operations with the aim of limiting movements as instructed by the government. So, fraudsters took advantage of the boom in such financial transactions to execute their criminal activities.

Recently, the country’s Finance Minister and heads of agencies responsible for fighting online financial fraud, have called for increased vigilance as the number of banks and mobile money users who have fallen prey to fraudsters has spiraled.

How the fraudsters operate in Cameroon

“These fraudsters will call you and tell you the name of your bank. They’ll claim to be agents working in the said bank and that your account has a problem. They will convince you by even telling when you created the account, how much balance you have in it, when you carried out your last transaction, and sometimes the number of your bank card. At this stage, they’ll ask you to send them your secret ATM PIN. And when you innocently do that, all of your money is cleared,” the Finance Ministry warned early this week.

Some IT security experts say it is very likely that such detailed information about a person’s bank account can only be passed on to fraudsters by workers of the bank who are privy to such information.

Valdes Nzalli, an expert in information systems security in Yaounde said: “Victims easily fall prey because sometimes they believe that only someone who truly works with their bank can have such critical information. That’s not true. A dishonest agent working in the information unit of a bank can have access to such details and then pass them on to fraudsters.”

He however called for increased vigilance from bank account holders because, according to him, no bank can ever ask for the secret PIN of a user. He added that as a precautionary measure against such incidents, banks are beginning to limit the number of personnel that should have access to critical information about customers’ bank accounts.

Cameroon's mobile money crooks

With mobile money operations, the situation is no different. Ndi Eugene Ndi, a journalist in the capital, Yaounde, said in the month of May alone, he was a victim of mobile money fraud on two occasions. He narrates that his mobile money account was tampered with by fraudsters who pretended to want to make a transaction to his account.

“On one occasion, I received three messages asking me to approve the withdrawal of money from my mobile money account. Not knowing who was doing the operation, I ignored all. Less than an hour later, I received another message that my SIM card was being swapped and will be completed soon. I reported the case to my mobile money operator and when they consulted, they realized it was successfully swapped, my PIN changed, and the account cleared. I was advised to complain to the police…,” Ndi recounted.

His experience is similar to those of several other Cameroonians who have confessed that in the last couple of weeks, they have seen their Mobile Money accounts drained by unknown persons.

Punishment for fraudsters

Cameroon’s National Agency for Information and Communication Technology, ANTIC – a body that has the mandate to investigate and report all forms of crimes perpetrated through electronic means – has warned against the phenomenon and called on banks and mobile money service providers to take more measures to protect their users. Authorities of the agency say their statistics show the banking and electronic cash sectors are the most hit by cybercriminals given the increasing digitization of banking transactions in the country.

Such fraudsters can spend up to 10 years in jail if convicted, according to Section 73 of a 21 December 2010 law that punishes offenses related to information and communication technologies in Cameroon.

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