Following the directive by MTN to its Mobile Money (MoMo) agents to demand valid national identity (ID) cards – Ghana Card, Driving Licence, Passport, Voter’s ID, and NHIS cards – prior to cash withdrawal transactions, ostensibly as an added layer in the fight against identity theft and fraud, there are growing concerns that the nation might be heading toward another spike in COVID-19 cases; particularly in Accra.
This is because an increasing number of the agents are demanding to hold and touch customers’ ID cards during these transactions without sanitising their hands or the cards before handling.
Checks by the B&FT at densely populated areas in the capital – including the Central Business District (CBD), Lapaz and Madina – show that this appears to be gaining traction.
With recent figures released by the telecommunication company for full year 2020 showing a rise in active MoMo users by 1.5 million to a total of 10.6 million active MoMo users, and an additional 53,000 agents during the year to a total of 206,000 nationwide, the ubiquitous nature of MTN’s MoMo and this recent development gives cause for concern.
In a series of interviews with such agents, they unanimously admitted that physically touching the cards does not form part of the directives given to them; they have resorted to the action so as not to possibly fall foul of MTN, following punitive measures meted out to erring agents in the first few weeks since the directive came into effect.
For others, there was a need to conduct ‘due diligence’ as they had doubts over the veracity of soft copies of ID cards and required closer inspection to ascertain their authenticity, hence their need to touch the cards.
Speaking under the condition of anonymity, an agent in the CBD said: “We know that MTN has not asked that we touch the cards physically; but seeing how things have been, with some of our colleagues getting their accounts blocked, we would rather err on the side of caution in this matter. And we believe touching the cards, or holding the phones that a picture of the card is on, offers us some degree of certainty”.
According to another agent, this time at Lapaz – who identified herself simply as Maa Lizzy, the spate of identity-thefts has necessitated the need for agents to be on their guard.
“Yes, we are aware that there is COVID-19; but we have to make the decision between not being sure for ourselves and being sure. As the directive is new, we know that some persons with ill-motives will try to take advantage of it before any loopholes are plugged. We cannot afford to take chances,” she explained.
Other agents at different locations shared similar sentiments, but preferred to do so off the record.
For a customer, Kofi Nii Ankrah, he believes while the move to curb incidence of fraud is laudable, the timing and implementation leaves much to be desired.
“I believe it is good that MTN has chosen to address the issue of fraud, because people were indeed losing money and it was also rubbing off on the reputation of the brand. However, I have concerns over the timing of such a directive as we are still in the heat of COVID-19; when emphasis should be on social distancing and limited contact.
“The implementation has been quite confusing and cumbersome, I must say, and there are times I have considered alternatives such as using my ATM card,” he said.
Effective April 2, 2021, all MoMo customers were mandated to present valid identity cards before any MoMo cash-out (withdrawal) transaction can be processed. This was described as a regulatory requirement, with enforcement of the directive expected to complement efforts being taken by MTN MoMo to curb MoMo fraud in the country.
In the week following the directive coming into effect, some 7,000 agents – representing 3% of the total number of agents – had their accounts blocked from transacting business on MoMo because they failed to comply with the new arrangement to request valid ID cards of customers.