Three ATM digits that could empty your bank account

Like a fly dancing into a spider’s web, the personal bank manager unwittingly strode into his usual corner in an upmarket joint in Westlands, Nairobi.

He loosened his tie, unceremoniously tossed his car keys on the table and ordered his drink. After casually glancing around, he surrendered to the sweet music wafting from the unseen speakers as he savoured his drink.

While Peter Mambo, the manager, was halfway through his drink, he was shocked when a waiter tiptoed to his table and placed a fresh drink before waltzing away. When the waitress shortly appeared before Mambo to be interrogated, she sweetly brushed aside his concerns about the source of the drink. Her explanation was that it had been bought by a secret admirer and cheekily pointed in her direction.

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The music was forgotten as Mambo scanned the neon lit room again and for the first time noticed the elegantly dressed woman, delicately perched on a high seat like a goddess on a pedestal by the counter. His anger thawed, and was replaced by a desire to resolve the mystery unfolding before him. 

He smiled and gestured his thanks and the bait was taken.

When the waitress next passed by Mambo’s table, she replenished his drink from the mysterious source. She also dropped a piece of paper with a mobile phone number scripted on it. The cat and mouse game continued as the manager keyed in the woman’s number and sent a message. And so the texting game began.

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Names were exchanged and before long, the girl with the bewitching smile invited Mambo to sit next to her at the high table. The call was irresistible. 

As the night drifted away, politely crafted words were replaced by niceties which ultimately bred some intimacy. Twice, the damsel wriggled out of her seat, danced her way out of the room, leaving her clutch bag and expensive smartphone on the table as she went to the wash rooms.

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Mambo’s guard went down. He too left his wallet on the table to dance. Emboldened, he even went to relieve himself. When he came back, he discreetly checked his wallet and found all his money was intact. The ATM cards, too, were safe. 

One drink later, the two parted ways but with a promise to catch up later in the week. Their prolonged embrace communicated unstated desire of a clandestine romance. Maybe next time.

Lured into woman’s house

Mambo had unwittingly fallen prey to the newest trick in town. He would pay dearly for the free drinks and the fleeting hug he had enjoyed.

After Mambo left his wallet unattended, the mysterious woman had discreetly photographed his ATM card with her phone. Of importance to her were the last three digits variously known as Card Verification Value (CVV) number at the back of the card, as well as the serial number and expiry date.

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“When I checked my account the following morning, all my cash had vanished. I had saved Sh150,000 and now it was all gone. Painfully, it woke me from the spell which had been cast by the mysterious woman. I suddenly realised I had been scammed. I should have known better,” Mambo narrated. 

Owing to his job, Mambo had encountered numerous cases of his customers’ bank accounts being emptied by scammers.

Security experts say these fraudsters have recruited irresistible women who are forever on the prowl in high end drinking joints in the evenings.

“Once they are confident the prospective victim is worth their trouble, they start investing. They first order them drinks and then entrap them, ” a private investigator, Steve Odero, explains.

To disarm their prey, the women -- wielding business cards with high-sounding executive titles -- cut the image of wealthy and independent women, not shy to state their desires and sample fine things in life. 

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According to our sources, one of the masterminds is from a country in the Middle East, and operates from Eastlands. His specialty is online shopping -- he keys in the card details to an online portal where he purchases very expensive electronic items and jewellery.

A Thika based banker, Dan Ngengi, recalled how his friend was lured into a woman’s house. By the time he came out of his alcohol-inspired stupor, all his savings amounting Sh400,000 had been ferreted out of his account.

According to Odero, once the predators make a copy of the ATM card with their phones, they quickly relay the details to their paymasters who then access the bank accounts for online shopping. “The women hunt alone or in pairs. As they patiently sip their pricey drinks, they wait for their victims to get drunk. They do not steal cards or money. They copy the details on the card and then relay them to their bosses,” Odero adds.

This is what befell a city businessman two months ago. The man, who deals in stationery, had organised a bash in his house in Fedha, Nairobi, to celebrate the settlement of an old Sh2 million debt by the government.

By the time the last of his guests staggered out and the host went to sleep, his account had been swept clean. The next morning, after a back and forth with his bank, the shocked stationer hired a private investigator who unveiled the truth. It was discovered that one of his guests had sneaked into his bedroom, copied details of his cards and shared with fraudsters. The hit-women, we have established, are paid 30 per cent of the value of the goods purchased with funds from the stolen victims’ account. There have been complaints that some institutions such as hotels are asking their clients to submit photocopies of their credit cards as a form of security should they default on paying their bills.

The photocopies, if obtained by scammers, could be used for illegal transactions. 

Risk experts warn that companies which expose their clients to scammers risk termination of services by card firms owing to violation of standards that demand that they protect the full account number, expiration date and CVV of the credit card after payment authorisation or after a transaction.

Elsewhere, another outfit deploys brute force to snatch ATM cards at gunpoint.

The gangsters, who use motorbikes, operate from suburbs such as Kikuyu and Ruaka. They are mostly in threes, and strike at night, snatching cards from pedestrians. The stolen cards are then sold to key racketeers, mostly from Nigeria, Bahrain, Pakistan, Russia and a supporting cast from Kenya.

To tame this trend, the Kenya Bankers Association in collaboration with several players among them Retail Association of Kenya and Consumer Grassroots Association have started an awareness campaign.

According to recent study by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), 60 per cent of frauds in financial services were either due to customer negligence or a customer disclosing their financial information. 

“Customers should not let their cards out of sight to guard against cloning or unauthorised use,” cautions KBA’s Nuru Mugambi.

Director of Criminal Investigations George Kinoti said the police have made significant strides in addressing the menace but admitted that it has not yet been eradicated.

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