ATM Robbery: A Threat to Cashless Policy

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Customers queue up to use an ATM machine

The increasing incidents of arm robbery attacks on Automated Teller Machines is threatening to derail the cashless policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria

|  By Anayo Ezugwu  |  Apr. 14, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT

ARMED robbers in the country may be shifting their attacks on banks to the Automated Teller Machines, ATM. The installation of security doors at the banks across the country appears to be deterring the dare devil robbers but they are shifting attention to breaking into the Automated Teller Machine, ATM and carting away huge sums of money stashed in them. It has also become a daily routine for the ATM to be robbed in the country and for some unfortunate customers of some banks to be robbed through surreptitious ATM withdrawals from their accounts without their knowledge.

The Police in Ikeja, Lagos, recently arrested Samiu Akande, an ATM robber and his gang members while they were on ATM robbery operation in the neighbourhood.  Before their arrest, the gang had successfully robbed 43 ATMs across the country. Akande confessed that  he was a commercial bus conductor at Iyana-Ipaja before a member of a notorious armed robbery gang, who operate in Iyana-Ipaja and environs introduced him into robbery. “I later graduated into a bank robber and finally an ATM hacking expert. One day I went to a bank (name withheld) to withdraw some money and I ran into one of the bank staff, and with time we became friends. It is the bank staff that taught me some of the basic skills in computer. Every other thing about hacking and ‘skimming’ of customer’s ATM card, I developed them myself. I would install card skimmers and small cameras on ATMs around my neighbourhood, these devices would collect customer bank card information each time someone makes use of the machine, and later I would supply the information to my insider in that particular bank, who would in return supply me with details of monies in the customer’s account, then I would start withdrawing money from the customer’s accounts. The devices would also disable the affected customer’s SMS alert on transaction on their account from activating,” he said.

Burgled ATM machines
Burgled ATM machines

But Akande later graduated from hacking of ATM to robbing the machines in every part of the country. According to him, he succeeded in his art with the aid of his banker friends, who serve as informants to him. “My friends who work in these banks would inform me whenever large sum of money had been stored in the machine. This is to guide us because in every operation he gets 30 percent and we have 70 percent. So, the larger the amount in machine, the better for all of us,” he said.

On February 13, the Lagos State Police Command paraded four persons, including a medical doctor and a pastor, who were linked to the deadly gang of robbers who attacked the Ayobo branch of Access Bank, killing three policemen, last November. Isaiah Willie, a pastor at Happy People Bible Church and member of the gang, confessed that he joined the gang through Confidence, his long time friend. “Confidence has been a long time friend of mine and he asked me to use my car to carry gas cylinders and other instruments to places where they were to operate, after which he will give me N40,000. I usually don’t go into the bank with them, my job is to drive the instruments to the bank and wait by the car,” he said.

The robbers, clad in army uniform, were said to have gone to Ilasamaja few days after the Ayobo bank robbery to rob a bureau de change operator of N10 million. Saviour Confidence, an ex-bank staff, who was also the leader of the gang were killed by the police at 49, Alimosho Road, Egbeda, Lagos. Sources disclosed that Confidence fled the country after learning of Bassey’s death, fearing the police would track him down. But the police managed to arrest his fiancée and made her tell him that all was well. He sneaked into the country one month later, asking his fiancée to meet him thinking the police were no longer after him. According to a source, a team of operatives followed the woman to the location and the moment he noticed the presence of operatives, he attempted to escape but was shot and he died from bullet wounds.

Those familiar with ATMs said that depending on the size, a fully loaded ATM can hold from N11million to N15 million. Francis Nwachukwu, former senior manager, First Bank of Nigeria Plc, now a lecturer at the University of Lagos, said that most bankers do all manner of shady deals with their customer’s account. He said apart from squealing vital information about customer’s account to criminals, bankers’ partner with criminals to steal from their employers. He added that, the situation is at present precarious and has drifted from bad to worse. “How do you describe a banker who feed in counterfeit currency into ATM for customers or who give robbers the home address of a customer who has just made large withdrawal for the hoodlums to go and clean up the customer,” he said.

Investigation revealed that people like Akande’s ATM robbery operation succeeds basically due to so many factors including lack of collaboration between all sectors in the ATM Life Cycle and law enforcement. Umar Manko, commissioner of police, Lagos State, during the parade of the suspects said his operatives have investigated related cases and that out of 10 ATM or bank robbery cases they have investigated five must end up being insiders’ job. He noted that the problem is that the bank’s management would never allow the prosecution of staff concerned. “All they would do is pleading that the affected staff has been dismissed and that the image of the bank was at stake.”

Manko
Manko

He said his operatives at the State Criminal Investigative Department, SCID, at Panti and Yaba, were currently handling five of such cases. He vowed that he might charge the affected bank staff to court, even though there are pleas for them to be spared. Investigation by Realnews revealed that physical attacks, ram-raids or smash and grab burglary of ATMs are some of the ways of robbing the machine. But one of the most common is through physical attacks, through which robbers attempt to gain access to the safe or vault inside the ATM by mechanical or thermal means.

Typical entry methods include tightening every opening on the machine and using explosive devices to blow open the safe to expose the cash cassettes or through the use of high speed grinders, construction saws, pry bars and torches to cut away the outside security lock to gain access to the inside of the ATM without setting off the alarm. Regardless of the tactic, the ultimate goal is to penetrate the ATM on location and open the safe door, or make an opening in the safe sufficiently large enough to quickly remove cash.

Today, in Nigeria, there is no evidence of any collaborative policy harmonisation towards securing ATM deployment. Although the Central Bank of Nigeria has implemented the e-Banking guidelines, with a section on ATM security requirements, and Muhammed Abubakar, inspector general of police, has also announced a requirement for armoured bullion vans to protect ATM machines in the major cities in the country, there is little indication of an overall ATM deployment policy harmonisation and safety yet in the country.

Hence, series of ATM robberies across the country could be tied to insider collaboration, poor security in and around the ATM location, general insecurity in the country and perhaps, inability of ATM users in the country to be security conscious contribute majorly to ATM robbery. Analysts believe that with constant armed robbery attacks on ATM, the government cashless policy may fail.

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