Hundreds, probably thousands, of Kenyans are suffering in the hands of a cartel involving insiders fleecing unsuspecting customers of their hard-earned savings in Absa Bank.
Formerly Barclays, the bank is now facing another storm over unauthorised debits of customers accounts just weeks after it was penalised by Central bank of Kenya for failing to provide information about some foreign exchange trades.
Last month, on 9 April, CBK issued a statement saying Absa Bank Kenya had not adhered to financial transaction requirements, including conducting standard checks on anti-money laundering and know-your-customer policies.
CBK has ordered the bank to cease to transacting as an authorised foreign exchange dealer in the Kenyan market for seven days, reverse the market positions that it created as a result of the flagged transactions and put in place a robust framework to ensure all relevant documents for foreign exchange transactions were available as required.
Kurunzi has independently verified from several customer complaints of how money is disappearing from customer accounts without trace and not even numerous attempts to recover the funds through the bank’s customer service lines or even anti-fraud unit yields much.
“I lost money after I swiped my debit card for a purchase and unlike the normal text that confirms a transaction none came through until several hours later and when it came it was not the correct amount so I never suspected anything unusual,” a customer whose account was deducted nearly KSh100,000 told Kurunzi on condition of anonymity.
Another one said: “They sent me a series of texts showing deductions from zero shillings to a few hundreds to being refunded after I swiped my card to pay for shopping.
“Then suddenly, after about an hour or so, a text pops up and it shows my account had been deducted 80k for a transaction and that is how I was like how?”
In both cases above, the female customers had used their cards to swipe for payments of less than KSh1,000 but until now they have both been getting tossed between customer service and anti-fraud but their money is yet to be refunded. What is shocking is that all the explanations given by Absa Bank staff have been contradicted over time.
“At first I was told the money would be reflected back because the transactions had not been effected and that what was showing as my balance would become my actual balance once the money is recovered from VISA but that has remained a story,” explains another customer who lost KSh500 for fuel he had not purchased.
On further investigation, Kurunzi has established that there have been several cases of such incidents reported but the bank has been downplaying them by quietly reimbursing customers their money for fear of being exposed.
Sources reveal that this is an inside job targeting dormant accounts with huge balances but the schemers have sometimes got it wrong by targeting accounts whose owners end up complaining.
“Normally, this is a plot that targets accounts with huge balances because it is not easy for someone to notice disappearance of a few thousands from an account with millions. They mostly target fixed term accounts or huge corporate accounts but they sometimes pick on loan accounts because they think such customers would not notice,” an expert on banking fraud says.
“That is why any complaint is normally addressed very quickly so in the cases you are talking about maybe someone is being mischievous or the matter has not been documented in the system for a reason or another.
“Maybe the trend in those accounts is that the operators are not regularly drawing or transacting from the accounts so the assumption is that they would give up depending on the balances but if they persist they will get the money back in their accounts quietly.”
Our sources say they are determined to get their money back, warning other customers to always check their balances “because maybe this is how they steal from us and we think our money is safe”.
“Now I know the importance of always looking at that ATM receipt keenly because these banks are not straight.”
The bank re-branded from Barclays to Absa just in February 2020 after nearly three years following Britain’s Barclays selling most of its controlling stake in Absa, South Africa’s third-largest lender, ending more than a century of the British bank’s involvement in Africa to focus on its home market and the United States.
During the official re-branding, the bank had warned of the possibility of fraudsters taking advantage of the transition to steal from customers.
This could be a classic case of fraudsters and money launderers using corporate shifts such as name changes, branch expansions and roll out of new technology to steal from unsuspecting customers.
“Customers are urged to be particularly vigilant during this time, as fraudsters are always looking for opportunities to obtain important personal information. The bank will not be asking customers for any information regarding their accounts,” the bank had said in a statement in February.