The ATM is a veritable and very interesting way to get quick cash without going through the usual hassle and problems associated with having to go to the banking hall. It is also a very good method of obtaining cash in emergency situations. In fact I dare say that the technology which has been in use in developed countries of the world and very recently introduced here in Nigeria qualifies for one of the greatest inventions for all times because of the ease, and comfort associated with obtaining cash in seconds. In the same light it has also become a source of extreme pain, worry, anxiety in this already difficult place called Nigeria. It has become a source of fraud and sleaze in our country.

Some days back precisely on the 15th of November, a Sunday, a colleague of mine at work went to the intercontinental bank ATM situated at Federal Medical Center Asaba (FMC) premises to draw some cash. As she inserted her card in the card slot, there was a sudden power outage and after power was restored, her card was retained, seized by the machine. She was confused, but soon calmed down when other colleagues assured her that this was not a strange occurrence and that it would be resolved on Monday the 16th November, being a working day.

As would be expected, she presented at the bank on that faithful Monday 16th made formal report to a certain lady who claimed she was in charge of such complaints. To her greatest disappointment, the lady advised her to return the following day as the gentle man in charge of card retrieval had not come to work. She was asked to return the following day, a Tuesday which she did, but as usual, she was asked to return again and this dribbling continued till Thursday 19th November. After some more dribbling she was asked to wait at the ATM situate inside FMC for collection of her card. She felt this was strange as she expected that the usual procedure would be for the bank to retrieve the card, log it in their books and send same to First bank PLC the issuer of the card, but this was not done and suddenly, a lady from intercontinental bank appeared and handed her the card by hand without any identity checks.

She felt some relief, but this was short-lived when she checked her balance and found only six hundred and sixty five naira only left, a far cry from about ninety five thousand naira which she had. She contacted intercontinental bank who feigned ignorance, and directed her to first bank where a bank statement revealed that on that faithful Monday, the day she reported to intercontinental bank, and the first day after card seizure by the ATM, there was a withdrawal from her account a record five (5) times. Four times for N20, 000 (twenty thousand naira) each in quick succession, and once for N15, 000 (fifteen thousand naira). Totaling about N95, 000 (Ninety-five thousand naira). This was demoralizing for my colleague, who immediately sent in a petition to all she could imagine including the police. The moment she dropped her petition to the MD/CEO of the bank through the branch manager, she started receiving calls from several staff of the bank that started pleading with her not to send an advance copy to the new MD/CEO in Lagos as she had threatened to do earlier. Who can blame them, with all the gist and rumors of downsizing? But most importantly this even brought in a more sinister angle to this sad tale. Why all this begging and pleading and phone calls to this “inconsequential” Nigerian? Could there be something else that needs to be covered by all means?

But the whole issue was about to get even more interesting when she was summoned for a meeting by the intercontinental bank branch management on the 23rd November who after an explanation of what they think had happened, told her blankly that the theft of her funds was carried out at an unspecified location at Awka on Monday the 16th of November precisely a day after her card was retained by the machine, and a day she complained to the bank that her card was retained, and on a day when a staff of the bank told her to return the following day as her card was not yet retrieved.

Now a few questions are begging the intercontinental bank management at Asaba for urgent answers and if they can successfully answer these questions, then half of the riddle will be solved.
a. How possible is it that a card which had never been stolen or ever had any hit by fraudsters and in the banks custody suddenly be hit a day after it was seized by the ATM.
b. Is there a due process for card retrieval existing at the branch
c. How come that this card was defrauded while in their custody
d. Is there a process whereby individuals who have access to the ATM strong rooms (outside the bank halls) are monitored, and security checked?
e. Does it make commonsense that a card in intercontinental banks custody as at the time of theft of funds can be used by another individual outside the internal framework of the banks secure zone?
f. Could it be possible that an intercontinental bank staff could have gotten this card, cloned it quickly, decoded it and used a method unfamiliar to the uninitiated to withdraw cash a record five times as has been stated?

Your answers to this questions are as good as mine, but let it be said here very quickly that while this whole matter was being discussed all over the hospital as bad news travels fast, people started relieving their tales of woe. Several people started recounting how the use of ATM led to loss of several sums of cash ranging from two to twenty thousand. Hard earned naira by hardworking Nigerians. However this should not call for any brouhaha, if the banks are alive to their responsibility. What this exposes is the lack of internal security in these terminals of fraud which the banks have promoted as a decongestant of the banking halls. Apart from the theft of the customary one hundred naira which they are accustomed to taking for this service at each withdrawal, they have become a drain pipe.

Some banks even force you to use them, by decreeing that any cash withdrawal below a certain sum across the counter attracts a fixed charge, but now they force us to use the ATM, and cannot guarantee the safety of our deposits. But let it be said that this is where an appropriate organ of government be in place to tackle such issues. While researching into this matter I discovered the poverty of data, as I couldn’t get an accurate data, on reports of theses issues. Nigerians are harassed by several things day by day. Sometimes the law enforcement agents on the roads, the PHCN at home, unruly petrol station attendants when fuel is available, bullion vans on the roads, siren wielding and gun totting security and government officials in big hillux jeeps threatening to crush them to pieces, all the time, dropped calls from inefficient GSM services, and now, fraudulent ATM machines all over the place.

One begins to wonder how much people have lost to these fraudulent ATMS. A friend of mine said that he put in his card to withdraw two thousand naira which was never dispensed but recorded as “transaction completed”, only to complain to his bank who were helpless on the matter. He informed me that he wrote several letters and reminders to the bank who educated him about a complex web of intricate protocols to follow. Seeing the near futility in retrieving his funds, he abandoned the trace when it became clear to him that it was a battle in futility. He simply consoled himself that what was stolen was meager? So who is the benefactor? Fraudsters, interswitch, or the banks. My sister in law also informed me that at her bank in ikorodu she lost twenty thousand naira. She presently lives at Abuja, and told me that it was futile contacting the branch on phone to trace her cash as the several protocol she was asked to submit herself to were cumbersome and disheartening.

This led me to feel that there may exist a deliberate policy to create difficulty, therefore
a deliberate method of preventing people from tracing their missing funds. Now if these funds are insured they need to be paid back without delay but when a people believe that what they lost cannot be traced successfully leaves a lot to be desired. They often wonder why banks will do anything to get your deposits, but will not do anything to help you keep your funds safe at least. Nigerians are used to impunity and not been accountable and the culture of see no evil hear no evil reigns supreme in the banks. Everyone just wants to protect their jobs that they do all they can to keep it when such issues break. They even as far as try everything they can to create alibis and the loss is suffered irreversibly by the customer. They simply don’t care and the banks in Nigeria sadly are ahead of everyone in this culture. As far as they are concerned, drop your money, whatever happens to it is your own cup of tea.

Can the banks be allowed to continue in this way? Should the lack of accountability be allowed to hold sway? Why do Nigerians feel helpless in this regard? Why do they not believe that if they petition the banks their funds can be retrieved? The answer is simple; we don’t have institutions that automatically ensure that ordinary citizens are protected from such losses. There is no plug to stop losses in this manner. There is a climate of the banks striving at all costs to make gain and excessively profiteer at any cost. There is no effective way of bringing thieves both internal and external to book. I also heard about a bank staff who stole over twelve million naira from a branch, relocated to the UK and is busy enjoying his loot. And all that could be said was that he simply got away. I was even informed that the theft amongst staff is very unbelievably high, but that the banks have a way of covering it up to prevent embarrassment. How laughable.

Anyway, I have taken an action to save me this heartache and stress; I have destroyed my ATM cards. I have returned to the old days of writing my cheques and filling the withdrawal slip. If the system cannot guarantee a safety of my funds, I will save my self the ordeal of becoming a victim of a technology whose victims are real but whose perpetrators are imaginary, unseen and in the techno-abstract realm of cyberia.

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Comment by Mwakuk Jang on December 3, 2009 at 6:22pm
This piece is really an eye-opener. I have had my ATM card retained by the ATM machine. This happened at a UBA Branch in Abuja after closing hours, but when I got there the next day, the staff said they were about sending the card to Diamond Bank - the card issuer, but when they satisfied themselves that I am the legal owner, after sighting my ID card that bears the same name, it was given back to me. From your narration above, it is obvious that the Intercontinental Bank staff at FMC Asaba have questions to answer, especially those that kept tossing your colleague around.
Nigerians should learn to persevere and pursue their rights that are always being trampled upon by all the forces that are inimical to their progress, no matter how long it takes, when the fraudsters note that people are resolute in ensuring that their rights are not abused with impunity, they will have a rethink about their fraudulent ways and also improve in the way they discharge their duties and the whole nation will be the better for it. I hope your colleague will not give up till every kobo of her hard earned money that was stolen is restored to her. I wish her luck.

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