… Criminals use POS to drain victims’ money, banks culpable
PALPABLE fear is currently gripping residents of Lagos State following an upsurge of new wave of robbery and kidnapping in the suburbs of the state.
The new wave of robbery and kidnapping which became pronounced during the COVID-19 lockdown has assumed a dramatic dimension, even as the Point Of Sale terminal simply called ‘POS’ machine is being commonly deployed by the criminals in facilitating clearance of cash from their victims’ accounts.
National Light authoritatively gathered that one of the latest modes of operation by the armed criminals is the abduction of victims on their way and taking them to a hideout where they would force their family members to part with some money or risk being killed.
In order to make their operations seamless, the criminals choose to move by commercial tricycles (Keke Marwa) accompanied by their accomplices who operate in multi-purpose vehicles such as Sienna.
It was gathered that when the Keke rider picks passengers, he would pretend as if the tricycle has developed a fault and the accompanying Sienna van driver would offer to assist the passengers. Along the way, they would take the passengers to an ATM to withdraw money, if the POS machine the gang is using fails to work.
A trader, Martins Udeh, who narrated his ordeal to National Light in Lagos, recently, said he was still smarting from the shock of shrewd and crafty way the armed robbers handled him.
The victim said: “On the fateful Tuesday morning, I was late from work and I got to Agege bus stop at about 11pm. As usual, people were stranded. So, when I saw a tricycle (Keke Marwa), I rushed and secured a seat.
When we got to a junction near the General Hospital, IfakoIjaiye, the Keke could not move again and it was drizzling. So, the rider came down, pretending to be doing some repairs. Few minutes after the rider came down, a Sienna bus stopped behind us and the Keke rider discussed with the Sienna driver who asked us to enter the vehicle as the Keke rider has paid for our fare. We were so happy and we hopped into the bus. To our utmost surprise, the driver stopped few poles away and I sighted the Keke rider made a detour back to Agege.
“After closing the door, a man who was acting as a passenger pulled out a gun and warned us not to make noise, but to cooperate or risk his wrath. He announced that if we had money, we should respect ourselves and bring it out and if we had ATM cards, we should bring it out too. Since I had no money on me, I surrendered my ATM card, which the man collected and put inside his pocket.
The other two persons had money, but one did not have up to N5,000 and he was asked to call his family and tell them that he was arrested while sleeping with a boy through the anus. He made the call and handed the phone to the driver who started talking all sorts of nonsense. He was saying that he was the head of one unit of task force. We arrested your son at a gay hotel while committing sodomy, which is crime against the Constitution.
“He gave the family an account number to pay N200,000 or their son would be charged to court. I don’t know the exact amount of money they negotiated but it was about N100,000, which the family said they would transfer to the account given to them.
“After dealing with the man, the gunman turned to me and asked how much that was in my account, warning that if I lied, I would regret it. I told them the truth that I had N136,000 and he said he was going to dictate an account that I would transfer N120,000 to. I told him that I did not have the app. He now brought out a POS, which the driver used in transferring some money into their account, which they were checking through their phone.
I thought he had finished the money in my account, but the next day, I saw that they only succeeded in withdrawing N65,000. So, I ran to my bank to complain as they were still with the ATM card. They dropped the other victim off and zoomed off with the other man they asked to tell his family that he was a homosexual. I don’t know what transpired again. We trekked to Fagba junction thinking that we would meet some policemen who used to man an armoured personnel carrier there, but we did not see them.
“On our way to Fagba, we entered a police post along the road but after explaining the procedure to apprehend the culprits, we decided to go home and forget the complaint. A police officer on duty said we would pay N50,000 for tracking and we would pay another N20,000 for mobilisation. I thought about how much I would spend and decided to swallow my pains.”
Another victim, Samson told our correspondent that the crime has become a daily occurrence since the COVID-19 pandemic, for commuters moving from Agege to Iju or from Ogba to Iju. He said: “From Fagba, through Orimolade, College Road, a gang of robbers operating in a Sienna bus used to rob people, collecting their ATM cards, and using POS or ATM cards for withdrawal.
“I entered a Keke Marwa at Jungle bus stop going to College Road. When we got to College Road and the keke stopped and immediately the Sienna came and offered to take me to Ikeja. The occupants used iron rods on three of us.
“The robbers, after spraying chemical in our eyes, started beating us. I am not sure where they took us to, but I suspect that it was around Computer Village. After making withdrawals with our ATM cards and POS, they threw us out of the moving vehicle. Someone picked me and called my relatives because, as at that time, I couldn’t remember any phone number in my contact. I was rushed to the hospital with bruises all over my body. I think the hoodlums will be very easy to arrest because they use POS and ATM cards for withdrawal. The police should, as a matter of urgency, lay ambush for the hoodlums. The police should liaise with banks and service providers to track the gang.”
A renowned motor mechanic, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, reported at a police station along Badagary Road, Lagos, how his son was abducted by a gang who collected his phone, which “they used in calling me to say that my son was arrested for being a gay.
They gave the phone to my son after briefing him on what to say. My son was crying and telling me that he was a homosexual, but the way he was talking, I suspected that he was under duress. But would I allow a 17-year-old innocent boy to be killed? I had to pay N50,000 into their account and he regained his freedom.
“It was when he arrived home that he told us how he was abducted and forced into their Sienna bus, after which they asked him many questions. From their questions, they discovered that I was a motor mechanic, who was not rich. My son said after telling him what to say at gunpoint, he had no option to speak as he was ordered. I think the police should be able to unmask those behind the robbery.”
James Aworola narrated how he was kidnapped in the Ijoko area of Lagos. He said: “I went to ATM to withdraw money in the evening. People were there and it was in broad daylight. As I finished withdrawal, I was going home when a Toyota Camry stopped beside me and the man in the passengers side brought out a sheet of paper, pretending that he was asking for an address. As I bent down to look at the paper, I immediately started feeling dizzy and another man in the back seat, who had alighted from the car started dragging me into the car.
“I was resisting and shouting, but I was too weak. As I was calling out to people for assistance, the gang members were telling sympathisers that I was their friend who had some issue to settle with them. Nobody came to my rescue as they succeeded in dragging me inside the car and they zoomed off while they ordered me to close my eyes. I was in the middle of two persons who were armed. They drove me to a place that I suspect is the residence of one of them.
“ It was in the house that they literally set fire in my house. They called my grandma, who I stay with, telling her that I was arrested for being a gay. They warned that if she should involve the police, I would be killed. They told her to send N500,000 or I would be killed, and switched off the phone.
“After about three hours, they called my mother, warning that time was running out as I may be killed any moment. My mother and her people started negotiating until they agreed to collect N250,000. My mum transferred the money for two days, after which they gave me serious beating for trying to implicate them when they came to abduct me in front of the bank that I went to withdraw money from. They warned that I should not resist next time to avoid being killed.”
Tunde Oloye said the abduction of people along the road was not new only that it increased during and after the lockdown. He said: “ I am aware of the trick and that was why I was able to save a young man who was being kidnapped in the Alagbado area of Lagos. As they were dragging the boy inside their vehicle, I raised the alarm, shouting ‘kidnappers,’ and they left the boy alone and zoomed off. The gang knows when to strike.
They lay ambush for people during a period where there is no traffic or late hours. They tell the same stories such as “we are looking for an address and, as the unsuspecting victim is trying to assist, they will spray a chemical substance that will weaken the suspect and they will force the victim inside their vehicle and zoom off.
“They use POS and ATM cards to withdraw money from victims’ bank account. Sometimes, they abduct their victims who they take to secluded areas where they give the victim’s family conditions for the release of the victim. Now, the question is, why have the police not cracked the syndicate? Those using POS are registered and if they use victims’ ATM cards to transfer money to certain account, the banks and service providers should act and unmask the criminals.”
One man who escaped the ugly attack and is still expressing gratitude to today, is Mr. Kassim Akomolafe. He narrated how he was accosted in the OrileIgamu area of the state: “I am a factory worker at the Igamu area. I was going home at about 11pm, when a car that I can’t pick the make pulled up beside me and one of the occupants was asking me about a hospital and I responded in all sincerity that I did not know the place. As I made to leave, the man who was wearing eyeglasses warned that if l wanted to stay alive, I should respect myself and come inside the vehicle. He brought out a gun and ordered me to come inside the vehicle. My instinct told me to take to my heels. I did immediately, waiting to be shot but I was not shot. I thank God that I escaped. I was wondering what would have become of me if I was foolish to enter their vehicle as ordered. I can’t explain who they were, whether they were robbers, kidnappers or ritualists. I can’t tell but they were armed and had evil intentions.”
Manfred Okon, an indigene of Cross River State, had the most bitter tale of his life to tell as he was forcefully abducted after withdrawing money from an ATM point at a new generation bank at Iyana Ipaja.
He said: “I just came back from the village after many weeks in the village because of the lockdown and interstate travel ban. As I spent all the money on me in the village, I decided to withdraw money from an ATM point. I did not know that a gang of kidnappers was watching me. Immediately I stepped out from the ATM point, a vehicle parked along the road and one of the occupants beckoned on me to grant him audience.
As I was not suspecting danger, I approached him and requested what help I would render to him. One of them showed me a shotgun and ordered me to enter the vehicle or be shot. I resisted but they came down from the Toyota Camry car, overpowered me and forced me into the vehicle.
“Some sympathisers, who tried to assist me left immediately one of the gang members showed them an identity card, which indicated that he was a police officer. They drove from the scene and warned me to face down or risk being killed. I don’t know where they took me to but the place was not far from where I was abducted.
“Immediately we arrived the hideout, they collected the N10,000 I withdrew from the ATM and my ATM card too. They asked how much I had in the account and I told them N38,000, which they crosschecked and they used POS machine to collect N35,000. After collecting the money, they told me to call my wife and tell her that I was picked by security personnel for engaging in homosexuality as I was caught pants down doing it.
I told them that I won’t tarnish my reputation by telling my wife what I did not do but they started beating me and said I would see more disgrace. They brought out condom, poured liquid milk inside it, stripped me and asked me to hold the condom in my hands.
I couldn’t understand what they intended to do with it and I asked what their intention was and one of them that threatened to shoot me earlier told me that they would post my photograph on the social media. It was at that instance that I started begging them to allow me talk to my wife. As I was pleading with them they were busy taking shots with their phones.
I told them that if I told my wife that I was a homosexual, she may be angry and may not send anything. One of them said I should just tell her and leave the rest for them to handle. I called my wife and told her exactly what they ordered me to say.
“To cut the story short, after some argument with my wife she was able to gather N 150,000, which she transferred to an account they gave her. I reported the matter to the police after I was released. The police officer I met at the counter, after questioning me, said I would pay N50,000 for tracking and I told him that I would come back but after thinking of where to raise another N50,000, I decided not go back to the station.
“As I am talking to you, I am still indebted to one of my in-laws and a church member who lent money to my wife for my release. I am appealing to the government to provide a number that we should call when such a crime occurs. We are tired of the police wahala. My wife knew that I was kidnapped but decided to rally for money to release me. The kidnappers are on the prowl. My friend told me how his colleague in the office was also abducted in a similar circumstance and he parted with N220,000.”
A newspaper agent, Mr. Dede Alfred, disclosed how he was abducted on his way from Abule-Egba to Fagba in broad daylight. He said: “I boarded a Sienna bus from Abule-Egba because there was no keke or okada during the lockdown. As we were going, the occupants turned to devils as they all threatened to strangle me if I did not cooperate.
I asked what they wanted me to do and they said if I had my ATM card on me and I told them that I don’t move with it. They asked how much I had on me and I told them that I am a newspaper vendor, and that we have not been doing well because of the covid-19 lockdown. They said that that was not the question they asked and I told them that I had N45,000. They asked that I should tell my wife to send money to an account they would give me.
They said I should tell her that the police was raiding a gay hotel where I was picked and I should tell her to be fast before I would be taken to special offences court for prosecution. They gave me my phone. I told them that even if they sell my entire house hold, we would not be able to raise N100,000 ransom. They got angry and drove out and asked me to face down.
They drove round and round the town and went inside a building where I was taken into a well furnished flat. They started threatening that they would kill me and sell my parts to ritualists. They were beating me and shouting at me as if I committed serious offence. I told them that I had only N45,000 in my account, but they said that my wife should make it up and I told them that there was no way she would raise another money because she is not going to the market because of the lockdown.
“After about 10 more slaps all over my body, they agreed that I should give my wife my code to transfer the money. I told my wife that as I was passing by a hotel, I did not know that it was a homosexual based and I was arrested by the police, who were threatening to charge me to a special offences court. My wife said she should contact a lawyer, but I said before the lawyer would come to where I was, I would have been in the prison.
My wife saw reason with me and transferred N44,000. They said I was owing them N1,000. They took me back to the bus and drove out. They dropped me on a bridge at Abesan area and zoomed off. I tried to get the vehicle number plate but it was not possible.
“My fear is for schoolchildren. If an adult like me could be cajoled, intimidated and hoodwinked like that, what is the fate of schoolchildren? This crime has become rampart along Agege-Iju Road, Iyana-Ipaja, Ogba and Sango, among other places, because we hear such stories every week.
“Why can’t undercover policemen crack the syndicate? The crime will continue to thrive if the syndicate is not unmasked. The police should reduce the amount of tracking hoodlums to a reasonable standard because that is scaring victims away from reporting attacks of this nature to the police. How can a poor victim raise up to N50,000 for tracking?”
A police source said: “What you are saying is not strange, but we are not magicians; we work with information. We cannot do otherwise, if people don’t report to us. Once a victim reports to us, we take charge but people don’t report when they are robbed.
How do we begin to look for criminals without description? If a victim reports to us, we should be able to get a possible lead through our interactions with victims. For example, we should know the route, type of car, modus operandi of the hoodlums and what was stolen from a victim. On the issue of mobilisation and tracking of suspects, I blame my people for requesting money for tracking.
We don’t collect money for tracking, but the procedure is cumbersome and victims don’t exercise patience. The victims, after reporting, will expect us to perform magic and arrest suspects the following day. I won’t tell you lies, we hear such cases in Special Anti-Robbery Squad, but after the report, we don’t see the victim again. Even when we make arrests and call victims for identification, they don’t come. How do we have evidence to prosecute the suspects?”
Stakeholders called on the CBN to disable the use of POS machine which has made robbery of innocent citizens a daily occurrence, saying that the cash device is doing more harm than good since bank authorities cannot regulate the use of the POS machine to stop illicit application.
Others blamed inability of commercial banks to keep most of their ATM machines always functional at a time on allocation of the POS machines to bank staff and business people whose credibility cannot be ascertained.