ATM fraud at the bank: a mysterious monkey hand in the dark

Automated Teller Machine card

I was almost finished with my end-of-month reports a few years ago when the on-duty security guard entered my office. In stark contrast to his often calm and alert demeanour, his face seemed somewhat stern. “What is wrong with ‘Sika Npe As3m’? How may I be of service to you?” I queried. Sika grinned and started to describe an Automated Teller Machine (ATM) card complaint from a customer. As she and her friend waited in the lobby, she had tears pouring down her face and a furious expression.

Being the officer in charge of tellering, cash operations and the ATM, I was used to hearing a variety of complaints from customers who tried to use the ATM. However, this one was somewhat unique so the customer and her friend were welcomed into the office to discuss the entire issue.

Ella, the consumer in question, was a student at the University for Development Studies (UDS) and in her second year. She had been a bank customer for two years and had always paid close attention to every transaction that involved her savings account. In describing her complaint, Ella stated that her father had just sent her monthly stipend of approximately GH¢1,000 to her account.

She produced a message from her phone as proof. After classes that Friday afternoon, she had intended to go do her regular monthly shopping like she always did. At the start of the semester, Ella asked for an ATM card but she did not use it much – just for emergencies and transactions under GH¢200.

She arrived at the banking hall to check her balance before making the withdrawal for her regular monthly shopping, and was informed that she had only GH¢50 in her account. She initially thought the customer service officer was reporting someone else’s balance to her. So she protested. The customer service officer persisted – printing her statement to show that, contrary to what was indicated in the last message prompt from her phone, her balance was GH¢50 instead of the anticipated GH¢1,050.

Dede, Ella’s roommate and friend could not contain her shock when confirming that Ella had received her usual monthly stipend from her father. She also joined Ella in protesting the statement. In their frustration, they concluded that the bank had stolen Ella’s money. When the customer service officer ordered the security officer to bring them to my office so the matter could be properly addressed, Ella was inconsolable and Dede was comforting her.

Ella claimed that the bank had stolen GH¢1,100 from her account. Meanwhile, her account statement showed that the money was taken out through an ATM. In response, Ella vehemently denied using her ATM card and stated she had never compromised either her card or the personal identification number (PIN) information because both were always in her wallet.

She said that not even her roommate, Dede, knew her card information or the location of her card. The bank most likely compromised her details, leaving no other option for the money to have been lost, she concluded. She would not be persuaded that the money was withdrawn using her card. Simply put, to her the bank took her money.

This was the challenge. I began to investigate the issue. My findings were very revealing and insightful. My initial deductions were soon confirmed, thanks to the sophisticated banking tools for monitoring transactions on every account in the bank. The majority of customers are unaware that ATMs are constantly being watched. In order to create a suitable audit trail for each transaction, the Automatic Teller System records and continuously monitors every single transaction that is made. As a result, it was simple to gather information and solve the puzzle of how Ella’s money vanished.

I requested Dede to excuse us for two reasons before telling Ella the results of my investigations.

In order to maintain confidentiality, it was unethical to discuss one customer’s account information in front of another individual. Second, Dede was mostly the focus of the research.

As part of my investigative inquiry, I first pulled out some ATM journals and security tapes, and then started browsing them on my computer. I reached the video with all the answers to the puzzle that bewildered Ella and me. We found the culprit! It was Dede! Ella’s jaw dropped in shock as she identified Dede in the security videotape. She was mute for a moment. I did not utter a word. I allowed her to calm down after another moment and then I began my damage control lessons with her.

Ella was certain that the information associated with her ATM card and PIN was secure and had never been compromised. She obviously erred, though. She was now aware of how lax her personal boundaries were. She had anticipated getting a message notification on her phone when the ATM withdrawals were started. But she was baffled as to why she had missed the communications. And how the messages on her phone were removed without her knowing is another discussion for another day.

The following are some pointers for ATM card users:

  • Kindly pay attention to the following whether you use the card at an ATM or online.
  • Always protect your ATM card and keep it in a safe place, just like you would cash, credit cards or checks.
  • Do not leave your ATM card on your desk at work or lying around the house. The card should only be accessible to you. If it is stolen or misplaced, inform your bank right away.
  • Keep your Personal Identification Number (PIN) a secret. Never write it down anywhere, especially on your ATM card.
  • Never give any information about your ATM card or PIN over the phone. For instance, if you receive a call claiming to be from your bank or the police asking you to confirm it, do not fall for it. Inform the policy right away.
  • Pay attention to your environment, especially at night. Don’t use the ATM if you see or feel something fishy going on – either with people or the environment.
  • As you approach the ATM, have your ATM card ready and in your hand. Take your card out of your wallet or purse before you get to the ATM.
  • Visually check the ATM for any potential skimming devices. Potential telltale signs include any trace of an adhesive being used by thieves to connect the device, scratches, broken or misaligned components, extra or loose attachments on the card slot, and a pronounced resistance while pressing the keypad.
  • When entering your PIN at the ATM, ensure that no one may see you. As you type your PIN into the ATM, use your other hand or body to block the keyboard.
  • Always take your receipts or transaction records with you to protect the privacy of your account information after using the ATM.
  • Do not count or visually display any money you received from the ATM. Immediately put your money into your pocket or purse and count it later.

>>The writer is a chartered banker and also a staff of one of Ghana’s leading banks. He can be reached on 0244179229 and/or [email protected]


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