Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Identity theft creeping into Botswana

A Barclays Bank customer who had never borrowed money from a micro lender had the shock of her life when a substantial part of her salary was withdrawn from her salary to debit Helping Hand Cash Loan in what appears to be a case of identity theft.

The Barclays Bank customer, who is based in Gaborone, running an account in Serowe, her home village, was told by bank officials that the amount had been transferred as per her agreement with Helping Hand in Francistown, into the Cash Loan’s account.

Also whispered in the scam is a South African debt collection company, which is believed to be providing confidential personal data for the identity theft scam. Identity theft is a term used to refer to fraud that involves stealing money or getting other benefits by pretending to be someone else.

The bank customer told The Sunday Standard that, “I then began to pursue the issue with the Credit institution, although the bank had refused to allow me access to the letter or agreement on the basis of which I was said to have consented to the transaction.”

In the course of things, it emerged that the Francistown-based Helping Hand was the one that received a list of names from their bosses containing the names of people who owed the Bank, and that the name of the affected Barclays Bank customer was among the said names. The Francistown Helping Hand branch then advised the customer that her loan was processed at their Maun branch and tentatively furnished with contacts of people she should talk to.

Information turned up by The Sunday Standard investigations further revealed that after chasing after a certain Mr. Bernet, who she was made to believe is the overall in charge of the Helping Hand group of cash loans which included both the Maun and the Francistown branches, she was then sent, by fax, an unclear copy of what purported to be her signature, which apparently facilitated access to her account at Barclays Bank. This was despite that she had never sought any credit from Helping Hand.

When confronted to explain how they managed to access the account of a person who has no connection to their business, a certain Andres, based in Maun and who refused to give his full name, said, “The person you are referring to has been refunded her money; you can confirm with her she is…”(Mentioning her by name).

Esther Norris, Head of Corporate Affairs at the Bank, had this to say, “It is unfortunate that this had to happen. However, we can confirm that there are indications that our customer’s money was improperly taken from her account into the Cash loan’s account, but the bank based itself on the trust that all the data it was served with by our corporate clients was in order.”

Norris continued, “In order to protect our customers, we have in place policies and agreements with our corporate clients that bind them to ensure that their customers’ data is authentic. This is meant to give us confidence that the encrypted files we receive from them have the right data that reflects the correct information to be processed by ourselves.”

Superintendent Takongwa Mazwidumo, Central Police Station Commander, confirmed that they have a case reported to them, but could not say what charges would be laid as they still have to get all the facts.

Furthermore, Norris stated, “We take full responsibility to protect our customers seriously and will continue to discharge this at all times.”

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Read this week's paper

The Telegraph September 23

Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 23, 2020.