Saturday, January 23, 2021

UK’s global fraud syndicates target Botswana

Botswana police have roped in their counterparts from the United States of America (USA), United Kingdom (UK) and Ghana to chase the trail of millions of Pula fleeced from local tour operators by UK-based global credit card fraud syndicates.

Detective Assistant Selebatso Mokgosi told Sunday Standard that a number of local hotels, lodges and tour operators are being fleeced by fraudsters believed to be part of the UK-based multi billion pound credit card fraud syndicates.

“So far we have not yet arrested any suspect in connection with the case,” he said, adding that the Botswana Police Service had teamed up with their counterparts from Ghana, Britain and United State of America in conducting the investigation which he is optimistic they will crack.

New security measures recently introduced in the United Kingdom are believed to be pushing criminals abroad, with credit card fraud overseas doubling in the first half of last year and Botswana tour operators are having the worst of it.

The joint police forces from Botswana, America, the United Kingdom and Ghana are currently investigating a case in which three local tour operators were robbed of more than P1 million by the syndicate. The trail starts in the United Kingdom, where the multi-million pound global credit card cloning operation is based and ends in Ghanaian commercial banks where the money defrauded from Batswana investors was deposited.

Sometime last year, a number of local tour operators were fleeced of more than P2 million through credit card fraud.

Fraud committed overseas on credit and debit cards issued in the UK rose 126% to £108.8m, according to the Association for Payment Clearing Services (APACS). Over the same period, card fraud inside the UK fell by 4% to £154.8 million.

The jump in overseas fraud is believed to have been fuelled by an increase in the number of travelers opting to use their credit and debit cards on trips abroad.

Last year £23bn was spent on cards overseas.

Reports of card fraud in Botswana point to the same pattern: tour operators in Maun and Kasane who have filed their cases with the Botswana Police Service reported that the fraud syndicate would first claim that they would be sending a number of tourists to Botswana.

It is understood that the syndicate would claim that the tourists would first go through Ghana before reaching Botswana. After the transaction using the fake credit cards has been completed, the bookings would be cancelled and transactions reversed and credited to bank accounts in Ghana.

The Public Relations and Communications Manager of the Botswana Tourism Board, Keitumetse Setlang, said, “The BTB has been made aware of an incident that has recently taken place in one of the local facilities pertaining to credit card fraud though we are unable to go into specific details regarding this incident.”

She said service provision agreements, including electronic money transactions, are between the merchant and the service provider concerned.
“We, therefore, implore the two parties to exercise vigilance at all times in handling such transactions.”

She further said that the First National Bank, as one of the Credit Card service providers, is prepared to carry out periodic training and is planning one shortly, in conjunction with the Botswana Tourism Board.
The UK based Association for Payment Clearing Services (APACS) recently reported that the fall in domestic card fraud had been driven by the introduction of chip and pin, which has made it harder to use counterfeit or stolen cards in the UK since criminals need to know the card’s pin to complete the transaction.

This has pushed the crime overseas to countries like Botswana with data held on a card’s magnetic strip copied to create a fake card the fraudsters can use in a country not yet upgraded to chip and pin.

RELATED STORIES

Read this week's paper