I have been deliberating over the last few months if I should post this or not as it relates to my business. I didn’t want a case where when #IdongHarrie is searched on the internet, part of what comes up is information about fraud. However, it is high time I speak about this.
My name is Idongesit Umoh and I am a victim of an online banking fraud. One thing I have learnt over the years is that if I ever fall a victim of anything, I will NOT keep quiet out of fear. I will stand, shout and make my voice heard.
I run a micro small business called Idong Harrie. We manufacture and retail handmade footwear and accessories using genuine leather and African fabrics for men, women and children. My business has won several recognition and awards by several multinationals and is playing its role in impacting the Nigerian economy and we ensure we also give back to our community.
A few months ago, I got shortlisted by the Mandela Washington Fellowship as one of the 101 outstanding young leaders in Nigeria to undergo a six-week training in the United States (all expenses paid). I decided to go to my bank (Diamond Bank) to request for PTA for the trip. I had initially wanted to request for $400 but one of the teller guys suggested I do $3000 at once. After consideration, I decided to do just that because I had some transactions to do in China and needed to pay for these and also buy some things for my factory while in the US.
I started the PTA process with the bank. On the 7th of June, I transferred N1.5 million from one of our business bank accounts to our business Diamond Bank account for the PTA. The next day being the 8th of June, I wanted to refund a customer who had been debited twice while using our Diamond Bank POS during the Lagos Leather Fair exhibition held the weekend before. I typed in my Diamond bank mobile app password and I got an error message saying the credentials I had put in were invalid. I tried it the second time and it said the same thing. Immediately, I called the customer service number, explaining to the woman who picked the call what was going on.
She then told me to re-activate my app. I did just that and the app requested for my PIN. I typed in my PIN and it said it was invalid again. I explained this to the customer service representative who was still on the call with me and she advised that I visited the bank. I told her that it was almost 4 p.m. and couldn’t make it but would do so the next day since I still had some documents I needed to drop off at the branch, and so I ended the call.
Less than five minutes after the call, I received a text message. When I checked, it was a diamond bank message showing a N100,000 transaction. I assumed it was a payment from a customer, which I was expecting. I then instructed my workers to start work on the customer’s order in the assumption that she had paid. A few seconds later, more texts came in and I saw they were still from Diamond Bank. I noticed that the texts were debit alerts and the names coming with them were strange. I said to myself that if Diamond Bank wanted to debit the money for the PTA, they won’t do so it in trenches. Immediately, it occurred to me that my account had been hacked, and I called the customer service, while simultaneously rushing to the bank. I got through to customer care and instructed them to block my account. I was at the bank when the debit alerts of the money being withdrawn were buzzing as they came in, while literally screaming at the customer service lady that all my money was gone and the account needed to be blocked right away.
Unfortunately, they were too late in acting. My account was cleared of approximately N2.1 million within 30 minutes! Since June, I have been going back and forth with the bank over this issue. In July, they refunded N668,000 and closed the case. I was shocked at how unconcerned they were about my situation and so some of my friends and I went ranting on Twitter. Our tweets reached Mrs Salako and she reached out to me to help. It also reached a lawyer who also reached out to me and decided to help me get things done legally. He wrote to the bank, informing them that he would be representing me and the bank wrote him back that I should seek the assistance of the appropriate law enforcement agency. They refused to take responsibility and so we had no choice but to sue the bank.
So here I am, barely starting a business and already in court fighting with a bank. What I don’t understand is why the bank isn’t thoroughly investigating the issue. I don’t have an ATM card to that account, my cheque book was locked up safe and my token was with me. The monies were transferred to people’s bank accounts. I have all their names on my bank statement. What is then the essence of the Biometric Verification Number (BVN)? Why is my case so difficult to solve? I was at the bank when this incident happened, why wasn’t something done immediately? Till now, i don’t know how this happened to me. I didn’t click on any suspicious link like the Bank has tried to claim. I always go to the bank or call customer care if I have any issue with my banking transactions. No one knew of the transaction I was making in relation to the PTA procurement, except me and the bank officials handling the process. How can I put money in the bank and the next day it is gone! What upsets me the most is that the bank is NOT at all bothered or sympathetic about my situation. I kept calling and calling until I got tried. Even while I was in the US, I would call the branch manager asking for information about their investigation and received no feedback.
I had a radio interview on October 20, 2017 concerning this issue with Mrs. Sola Salako on her online radio station. We also talked about one elderly woman’s case with the same Diamond Bank. All her pension money of N585,000 was fraudulently withdrawn via mobile banking, leaving her with N2.07. The woman uses an analogue phone, so how on earth could she have done mobile banking as stated on her bank statement? The next day after this incident, her husband died. Now the woman is mourning the loss of her husband and her money and yet since March, the bank still hasn’t refunded her money. How heartless could this be?!!!
This incident has left me depressed, unmotivated and penniless. I go to bed crying and I wake up with a pounding headache of where and who I will take a loan from to off debts and keep the business afloat. I have had goods in China since June, but no money to pay the balance in order to have them shipped down to me. I have a loan repayment, to which I must redeem every single month. Whether I make sales or not, I must pay back the loan. For the first time since I started business, I have owed my staff their salaries. I task my brain daily on how to raise money. I thank God for the values I have and that as a beautiful single lady, there are things I will NEVER subject myself to. I smile on the outside but am dying inside and only those close to me are aware of the huge pain I am living with. How do I survive all these?!!!
Just about three weeks ago, I decided to wake up from my depression. I got myself back after the consistent advice and encouragement from my dear friends and few customers who were aware of the unfortunate incidence. I recalled that I was at a forum held by EDC some years back and Mrs Tope of Sixth Sense was on the panel. She told the story of how her store burnt down and she had to start all over again. I decided to read The Girl Entrepreneur by Mrs. Ibukun Awosika again to motivate myself. Reading about how most of the women we look up to today went through challenges in their businesses. How Mrs Ibukun fought when policies changed which affected her business but she still rose ahead; how Mrs Tara felt on seeing imitation of her products in China - her sweat and labour of many years, but is still going on till date; then who am I not to rise up from my depression and keep going on!
Even though I do not know where the next money will come from to pay salaries and other expenses to run my business and personal life, I know that I have a God and He is my Jehovah El-Shaddai. He is the one who fights my battles and delivers me from the claws of the devil. After all, He is GOD!
My dear friends, please be very alert. I still don’t know what I did wrong to make this happen, but just be cautious. There are a few tips on how to secure your accounts on this website: www.cafon.org.ng. Please read them and share.
At this juncture, I would appreciate anyone who has ideas on how SMEs like mine can be saved from total collapse after going through such a massive shock and setback. I believe that I am one of many who have been affected by these acts of fraud, of which the banks around and policies in place do not help but are disdainful of victims. It is highly unfortunate that honest people work and yet scammers live off the fruits of the labour of such people. Equally, the business policies in place across both the private and public sectors need to be re-evaluated to cater for victims. Banks are insured from things like this and I guess that’s probably why they don't care about others. Hence, victims are left to bear their burdens and go through the nights of depression alone.
There is a need for justice for victims of online fraud who are equally oppressed by banks because they seem so little and powerless against the huge corporate might of these banks. I demand justice in relation to Diamond Bank, for all that I have laboured for, which have been unfairly taken from me through one of its services, for which it is avoiding to take responsibility. I demand justice for the shoddy and non-cooperative way in which I have been treated by the Bank this far.
We need to create an environment that protects and refrains from ruining small and medium scale businesses, which are no doubt the engine room for the recovery and growth of the Nigerian economy.
-Idongesit Umoh runs Idong Harrie, a footwear and accessories manufacturing enterprise.