Momo fraud in Ghana: How scammers steal your money
Stephen Nyuur is a businessman who operates his provision shop at Achimota Mile 7, a suburb of Accra.
He deals in general merchandise and has several customers that buy the products for retail purposes.
Stephen receives payments of his merchandise in cash, and through the electronic system of payment i.e. mobile money or momo.
He prefers the mobile money cash payments system because he believes it is easy and convenient.
“I don’t want to always carry huge sums of money on me to attract robbers and that is why I prefer the mobile money system of payment for my goods,” he said.
Sometime in July this year, Stephen said one of his regular customers purchased items valued at GH¢800 and promised to pay for the goods through mobile money but on a different date.
He said around 2:00 pm the next day, he received a mobile money payment prompt from a vendor of a sum of GH¢800, and this followed a call from his customer confirming payment of the goods she had bought the previous day.
Stephen said 15 minutes after receiving the call from the customer, he received another call from a male caller who introduced himself as the vendor who sent the money.
He said the message of the caller was that MTN operators of the mobile network were yet to deduct the money from his account and wanted him (Stephen) to allow cash out for him to rectify the problem.
Stephen allowed cash out and within seconds a total of GH¢14,000 in his account vanished.
Stephen reported the issue to the operators of the network and was given the number of the person who cashed the money.
“A report was then lodged with the Nima Police Station for investigations to be conducted but the police are yet to get the suspect apprehended,” he added.
Introduction of Mobile Money in Ghana
Mobile money is an electronic wallet system linked to a mobile phone number. The service allows users to store, send and receive money using their mobile phones.
In Ghana, mobile money is operated by three major Mobile Network operators: MTN (MTN Mobile Money) – the industry leaders; AirtelTigo (AirtelTigo Mobile Money) and Vodafone (Vodafone Cash).
With mobile money, one can send and receive money safely, pay utility bills, TV subscription, buy movie tickets, buy airtime, withdraw cash at merchants’ points including ATMs, and pay for goods and services.
Bank of Ghana’s Payment System Statistics on mobile money in Ghana revealed the constant growth of MoMo services.
The mobile money service was first introduced in Ghana by the telecom company MTN in 2009, and it was followed by Tigo and Airtel in 2011.
The estimated value of the mobile money transactions in 2014 was GH¢11 billion with 2.3 million active users; it shot up to GH¢31 million in 2015 with 10.4 million active users, and as of July 2016, the estimated value was GH¢37.07 billion.
Types of mobile money fraud
The Director-General in charge of the Cybercrime Unit of the Criminal Investigations Department (CID), Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Dr. Gustav Herbert Yankson, says MoMo fraud is often perpetrated by fraudsters thus duping unsuspecting subscribers of the various monies.
The Ghana Chamber of Telecommunications in April 2019 announced that mobile money operators recorded 388 money fraud cases in 2016 as against 278 in 2015.
“Various sums of money have been made away by the fraudsters; majority of these cases have been reported to the police for further investigations and some have been successful as suspects have been tried and convicted of their fraudulent actions,” ACP Dr. Gustav Herbert Yankson said.
He said victims of momo fraud had lost monies ranging from GH¢70 to GH¢4,000, describing their experience as unfortunate.
Dr. Yankson mentioned some of the tricks used by the criminals in perpetuating their nefarious activities as follows:
Scam messages/reversal of erroneous transactions
These fraudsters, he mentioned, send mobile money scam messages to subscribers with the intention of tricking them into sending funds to a designated number.
He explained, “Some of these tricksters use different SIM cards and phones to perpetuate their fraudulent acts.
“They often resort to sending fake SMS messages to subscribers’ phones or email alerting the customer of cash in a transaction on his mobile money wallet.
“Shortly thereafter, the fraudster would call the customer claiming to have erroneously sent money to the wrong customer number.
“Innocently and before checking the balance on his/her mobile money wallet, the subscriber would make a transaction to reverse the “erroneously sent money” from his account, thus losing money.”
Emotional Delusional SMS
The fraudster sends an SMS that seems to have originated from the Mobile Money Service Provider (MNOs). The fraudsters will then call and tell the recipient that (he/she) the fraudster’s mother is sick at the hospital, he/she wrongly transferred some amount to your wallet instead to his/her sister at the hospital. The fraudster will ask that the money be returned to a named number and under the guise of emotional sympathy, the subscriber sends the money without having verified the authenticity of the SMS.
Anonymous calls from fraudsters
Customers receive calls from fraudsters after deposits to transfer funds received with the claim that airtime has wrongfully been sent to the subscriber and often times this is not cross-checked before resending by subscribers.
Cash-out Fraud Customers are pushed with payment approval prompt and lured to enter their PIN code in order to receive prize won through mobile money and spoofed with authorization SMS.
Vendor PIN Fraud
This type of MoMo fraud is usually targeted at MoMo agents especially those who have a high customer traffic. It is common practice for these busy MoMo agents to initiate a transaction and then hand over his/her phone to the customer to punch in his number. The customer would give the phone back to the agent to complete the transaction by inserting in his PIN code. Fraudsters take advantage of this.
This is a new tactic devised by tricksters. It works like an advance fee fraud. These tricksters run on the ambit of the fierce competition in the telcos industry which has precipitated price wars, bonuses on airtime top-up and special prizes under loyalty programmes that include cash, cars, refrigerators, houses, among others. Winners would be called through telephone calls asking them to pick up their prizes.
The fraudsters are responding quickly by creating their own “call centres”. Posing as staff members from the telco, these tricksters would call subscribers informing them that they were lucky winners of bogus packages and should come quickly to redeem their prizes. However, they would request the subscriber (their “lucky winner”) to make an initial deposit of mobile money to facilitate the process of handover of the prize. Also, customers could be lured to authorize cash-out transactions with the claim of winning mobile money promotion.
Fraudsters calling to dupe customers under the pretext of delivering goods from abroad (Vishing) which the subscriber never expected. Some fraudsters call and ask for specified amounts to be deposited into a mobile money account in exchange for these goods from supposed relatives/friends from abroad.
This type of fraud is usually perpetrated by the mobile network operator (MNOs) or service providers’ employees. The victims of this type of fraud include the service provider, merchant, agent or the customer. Examples of this fraud include the service provider stealing customer’s electronic cash, unauthorized transfer of funds from customer’s account and collusion between fraudulent mobile money employees and other fraudsters to carry out unauthorized SIM swap and transactions from customers’ mobile money wallets.
MoMo Fraud Prevention
Dr. Yankson urged individuals not to share their PIN numbers with vendors or agents.
According to him, “Your PIN (Personal Identification Number) is like your password or secret code for processing transactions. Your PIN should not be made known to the vendor or agent during transactions as this puts you at risk of fraud due to MoMo.”
Protect your PIN
Ensure you do not choose easy-to-guess pin codes as your PIN numbers like Date-of-Birth, Year-of-Birth, Car Number Plates, Post Office Box addresses, since third parties can easily breakthrough. Additionally, memorize your PIN, Do Not write them down or note them on your phone.
Confirm the identity/ name of receiving subscriber
Do due diligence (verification) of the name of the account you are sending funds to. Don’t be outwitted by someone who says he has sent money mistakenly to your account, even if you believe their story, please check your balance first before you proceed to do any transactions.
Don’t let anyone carry your phones to withdraw money for you
Avoid the practice of sending third parties to cash out monies on your behalf. Some of these third parties may include friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, among other relations. They could easily monitor your transactions and divert funds to other mobile money account numbers.
Check your balance after every transaction
Check and record your balance after every transaction is completed. Also, check your account balance when you receive a suspicious message.
Ignore suspicious calls or messages
Kindly ignore such calls and messages when you suspect them to be of fraudulent activity. Report it to the telecommunication company to follow up and deal with the issue. The Telecommunications Companies (telcos) are working closely with the e-crime Bureau and the Ghana Police to clamp down on these criminals when reported.
Reported cases and prosecution
Dr. Yankson confirmed that in 2017, a total of 357 cases were reported but in 2018, the number reduced drastically probably due to their educational campaigns.
He hinted that the success rate of their arrest and prosecutions were at 6.2% but Communications Minister Ursula Owusu-Ekuful also hinted that only 10% of reported mobile money fraud cases have been investigated and prosecuted.
He said this was because most of the suspects used fake identity cards to register their SIMs, thus making it difficult for the police to identify the perpetrators.
Speaking at the climax of the National Cyber Security Awareness month at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre (KAIPTC), the Communications Minister asserted that about 50% of Ghanaians who have subscribed to the mobile money platform are either targets or victims of mobile money fraud.
“The introduction of mobile money has suffered from attempts at defrauding the system by malicious actors. In 2017, one of the telecommunication companies reported that it received about 365 complaints of fraud monthly from its subscribers.
“The scale of attempts at fraud are staggering as it also indicated that it filtered all the SMS messages that passed through its platforms and blocked more than 400,000 scammed messages from reaching their recipients on a daily basis,” she added.