Be careful at ATM points, inside public transport, govt agency warns Lagosians

THE Lagos State government has alerted its citizens to the return of fraudsters who specialise in hypnotising members of the public and dispossessing them of their hard-earned money. Their modus operandi is to set a process in motion that allows them to attract the attention of their victims and then induce a state of hypnosis in them. They end up using the Automated Teller Machine (ATM) cards of such victims to withdraw money from their bank accounts.

The Public Relations Officer of the Central Business Districts (CBD) in the state, Mr Segun Olaoye, confirmed to Saturday Tribune on Thursday that a surveillance team caught one of such crime suspect in the act and promptly arrested him.

“But on noticing that their colleague had been arrested, the other four men who held their victim hostage inside a vehicle parked a few meters away drove off.

“He has been handed over to the police for prosecution because our job is not to persecute. We are, therefore, calling on the public to be careful and mind the vehicles they board as they go about their daily activities,” Mr Olaoye told Saturday Tribune.

Also, recently, the Special Adviser to the Lagos State Governor on Central Business Districts (CBD), Mr Olugbenga Olanrewaju, drew attention to the re-emergence of the fraudsters.

Olanrewaju advised members of the public to take extra security precautions when doing business within the Lagos Island and Ikeja business districts.

He told newsmen that a gang of suspected fraudsters operating around Asabi Cole Street, Agidingbi, Ikeja and its environs was smashed recently by operatives of the Lagos CBD, Ikeja zone.

He said one of the suspects who was arrested had already withdrawn N99,000 from the bank account of a victim detained beside a new generation bank by four other suspected members of the gang. “The others drove off with the victim after realising that one of them had been arrested,” he added.

In 2015, a victim who gave her name simply as Sarah was accosted by hoodlums at Pen Cinema, Agege, on her way from Ikeja. They pretended to be looking for the address of a European church in that vicinity. According to Sarah, as soon as she stopped to listen to them, she was hypnotised. By the time she came back to her senses a few minutes later, the fraudsters had made away with her handbag and mobile phones. She said some Good Samaritans helped her with the money with which she transported herself back home that day.

Another victim, a young boy, was said to have been hypnotised the same week somewhere in the Oko Oba area of Agege by another gang of fraudsters. The four men adopted a similar approach which caused the boy to follow them to an unknown location where they collected his debit card and withdrew about N100,000 from his account. But luck ran out on the notorious gang that same day. One of the gang members was spotted by one Emeka whom they had earlier duped. It was learnt that Emeka dragged the fraudster to a nearby police station where the boy that was earlier hypnotised was seen with his father. The boy, it was gathered, immediately recognised the fraudster and raised the alarm. The suspect reportedly confessed to the crime and was promptly charged to court.

 

How the hypnotists work

A hypnotised person finds themselves in a state that seems they are asleep but can still see, hear, or respond to things said.

This was the experience of a woman named Ebun Efunkoya who shared her experience recently. Although the incident happened in 2019, she recently took to social media to warn unsuspecting Lagos residents that the fraudsters were back on the streets. Efunkoya spoke of how she was hypnotised and dispossessed of about N 1 million by a criminal syndicate operating with a tricycle.

The incident, according to her, occurred in the morning of Friday, March 22, 2019, at a location in Victoria Island where she had boarded the tricycle en route her office on Ligali Ayorinde Street.

She said: “I boarded a Keke NAPEP at the Eko Hotels Roundabout heading to my office at Ligali Ayorinde, a distance that costs N50. A lady was in the keke already when I entered. A few seconds later, a man also entered, putting me in the middle. The man alighted at a nearby bus stop and the next thing he did was to hand the driver a dollar bill. The driver got furious and asked him to go. Then he called the man back and asked him why he gave him a dollar bill. The man started speaking in French about how he was a foreigner and had never been to the country and because of that, he had been scammed a lot in the past two days. The driver asked him to get in, promising to help him.”

The woman said she was becoming impatient with the delay but the driver pleaded with her and the other lady to be patient so that they could follow the man to a bureau de change to convert his dollar bill to naira because the man in question was scared the driver might dupe him if the two of them were left alone.

Oblivious of this old trick by fraudsters, Efunkoya, who said she didn’t reply the man, replied the lady who tapped her and suggested that they help the ‘foreigner’.

She said: “The lady became really teary and tapped me, then said, ‘Madam, can you hear what is going on? People are duping this foreigner, let us help him. Then finally, I said, ‘Sorry, but I am late for work. I can’t’. The lady began to talk about how she was also going somewhere but that we should be Good Samaritans and good Christians.

“I didn’t know when we moved past my office and arrived at a market. Then I got into a car and the rest is history. I did not go to work that day. I spent the day with those people.

“A pastor came into the picture and started telling me specific things about myself, more like he was prophesying. He was quoting from the Bible, praying in tongues. One thing led to another and I was duped of N220,000 that day.

“But did it end there? No. Still under whatever influence I was put, the next day, I started borrowing money from my friends like a mad woman. Then I packed my gold jewelry and my mum’s, her cash and her ATM cards. I left the house and headed for Idimu. Mind you, I had tons of stuff to do on that Saturday but I went to ‘my dears’ like a zombie.

“When I got to them, they welcomed me, hugged me and the evangelist said it was time to bless all I brought and do deliverance. Now I was instructed to switch off my phone (so that the alerts as the withdrawals were being made won’t be seen (I realised this later). They withdrew over N460,000 that I borrowed from friends and my business money, took my phone (iPhone X), my wig, my smart watch, the gold jewelry and emptied all my bank accounts.”

She said she eventually regained consciousness around 11.00 p.m. that Saturday and borrowed a stranger’s phone to call her sister, thinking that she was in Iyana Ipaja only to realise that the location was farther.

Efunkoya wrote: “My sister told me to get a cab and come home straight. I got home and everything was still a blur. I later started to stabilise. It was as if something was lifted off of my eyes and my brain was restored.

“Yes, it happened to me and it is still happening in this day and age. It was not one day but two days. If you love humanity, share this for awareness. No one deserves this traumatic experience. Do not engage in any conversations with a stranger. As many good people as there are out there, double is the number of bad people.”

 

Another victim’s experience

Saturday Tribune had earlier reported the experience of Mrs Ese Imohinmi which differed a little. She had gone to an old generation bank on Egbe Road, Iyana Ejigbo, with her daughter, Olivia, to make a withdrawal. She joined a queue but when it was her turn, the machine showed ‘temporarily unable to dispense cash.’ Since another generation bank’s ATM point was nearby, Mrs Imohinmi asked her daughter to quickly go and make use of the machine and meet her at Iyana Ejigbo market. Unknown to them, a woman who had been monitoring them boarded a tricycle and went ahead of 14-year-old Olivia. When Olivia arrived and joined the queue at the other ATM point, the woman approached her and told her that her mother said she should use the other ATM card and make the withdrawal.

The woman gave Olivia a debit card with a PIN and requested her to hold the other one and wait for her to finish the transaction. As soon as the unsuspecting young girl approached the ATM, the strange woman disappeared into thin air. It was when Olivia slotted in her new debit card that it became obvious to her that she had fallen for a scam. That was how Mrs Imohinmi lost N120,000 to a merchant of cloned debit card.

It was gathered that cyber thieves have now developed a bigger capacity to wipe out bank depositors’ funds in their bank accounts in a jiffy.

The governor’s adviser on CBD, Mr Olanrewaju, said the arrest of one of the criminal suspects was as a result of a painstaking surveillance.

Olanrewaju said his office had been inundated with complaints from people who had fallen for the antics of the fraudsters, particularly on Ashabi Cole Street. He said the fraudsters hypnotised their victims to gain access to their bank accounts through ATMs.

He promised that his office would work closely with security agencies in bringing criminal elements within the business districts to book. He, however, warned residents in Ikeja and Lagos Island CBD to be wary of people hanging around banking premises and ATM points.

A victim, who pleaded for anonymity was able to identify the suspect arrested by the CBD operatives as one of the people who dubiously made her withdraw N200,000 from her bank account last week.

 

Any hope from technology?

Although a person under hypnosis may not regain consciousness until after the fraudsters have finished their work, security experts are optimistic that someday, technology will find more innovative ways to prevent unauthorised access to a person’s bank account.

In this regard, one of the new generation banks, Unity Bank Plc, during the week, unveiled a new code on its USSD platform that completely puts the customer in control of their bank account against any e-banking fraud.

The Directorate Head, E-Business, Retail and SME Banking, Mr Funwa Akinmade, said leveraging necessary technology to protect the bank’s assets, including the customers’ accounts, remained a top priority for the bank in the face of rising cyber security threats.

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