Electronic-related financial crime is gaining massive ground in the country. Some reports have revealed that the menace have cost Nigerians over N25.5 billion in just four years.
Breaking it down, a non -governmental organisation, the Anti-Corruption Agencies of Nigeria, said each Nigerian loses the equivalent of N35,000 yearly on financial crimes.
It aggregated the loss to amount $18 billion when spread across illicit Financial Crimes like bribery, Internet fraud and non-payment of taxes.
However, the issue has become so worrisome in the Information and Communications Technology, ICT sector, that the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC can no longer have any of it.
At the weekend, during the Second Quarter Industry Consumer Advisory Forum (ICAF) in Lagos, the commission appeared to hold the telecom operators partly responsible, subtly warning them to improve on their networks’ security architecture or take the blame for the risk and threat posed by the rising menace.
NCC believes that if the telcos improve on the security architecture of their networks, unwarranted access of such crimes will be effectively blocked.
The commission said unequivocally that it was no longer comfortable with the way Nigerians lose their hard-earned money to fraudsters, who take advantage of the vulnerabilities on their network platforms.
But in a swift response, the umbrella body of the telcos, the Association of Licensed Telecom Operators in Nigeria, ALTON, differed with the commission.
The association did not agree that the network architecture of the telcos has anything to do with the rising menace considering the huge investments operators have made over time in advancing their networks.
Executive Secretary of the association, Mr Gbolahan Awonuga, used the opportunity of a panel discussion on a paper titled: “Combating e-fraud in telecom platforms: Building consumer confidence in the digital economy” to push back the narrative which tends to heap the blame on the doorstep of the telcos.
He said: “The Nigerian telecom industry is one of the highly regulated sectors in the world.
This is also why it is the toast of investors all over the world. So operating in this type of regulated sector almost imposes on you the obligation of getting everything right. And, to be fair, Operators in Nigeria are living above board in their responsibilities. I do not agree that the problem of e-fraud is as a result of operators’ poor infrastructure. The operators have, and consistently do upgrade their infrastructure to the extent it can cope with threats.
While on the argument, the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, narrated a soul touching story of how painful the activities of eFraud could be, with a personal experience of having recently lost $5000 to cyber criminals. He insisted that the networks need to be kept safe for all.
Danbatta said: “Telecoms operators must upgrade and equip their networks with tools that will make them robust and secure from criminal attacks because of consumers. An unsecured network put the personal data of Nigerians at risk.
This was why we came up with the idea of type approval equipment policy, so that the equipments don’t undermine the security and safety of Nigerians” he added.
Decrying futher, the rising menace, in his opening address, Danbatta defined e-fraud as a social vice that encompasses a wide range of malicious activities carried out via electronic means, including identity theft, phishing, hacking, and unauthorised access to personal and financial information, with the intention to defraud or take advantage of victims.
He said these criminal activities not only cause significant financial losses but also erode consumer trust in the digital ecosystem.
Earlier, in his welcome address, NCC Director, Consumer Affairs Bureau, Alhaji Alkasim Abubakar Umar, also alluded to the views of Danbatta that the rapid expansion of the telecom sector has opened new avenues for criminals to exploit unsuspecting individuals through various forms of electronic fraud.
He agreed that in recent years, the country has witnessed a surge in digital transactions, making lives more convenient and efficient, saying that the remarkable growth of the telecoms sector with increasing access to mobile phones and Internet connectivity is responsible.
For him, there is the other side of every development and that is what Nigeria should guard against.
He said: “We have witnessed a surge in digital transactions, making lives more convenient and efficient. But that also come with negative developments which should be guarded against. Some reports have revealed that Nigerians have lost about N12.5 billion to financial crimes linked to the telecommunications industry in the past four years; this needs to be stopped.
“The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) estimated that $600 billion is lost to cybercrime each year, an increase from a 2014 study that put global losses at about $445 billion. “eFraud poses a significant threat to society; it undermines the trust and confidence in our digital platforms, hampers economic growth, and adversely impacts the lives of our citizens. As the regulatory authority responsible for overseeing the telecommunications industry, the NCC recognises its duty to safeguard the interests of consumers and protect the integrity of the digital ecosystem. That is why we are having these conversations today” he added.
Also, Non-Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer, FutureSoft, Nkemdilim Uwaje-Begho, who delivered the lead presentation at the event, listed key challenges of eFraud, to include evolving threat landscape; increased risk; lack of awareness; lack of collaboration and limited regulations.
Giving insights in her paper titled: “Combating e-fraud in telecom platforms: Building consumer confidence in the digital economy” Begho contended that to mitigate the threats, the sector would need to build consumer confidence in the digital economy as much as regulators must also implement policies that facilitate collaboration.
For telecom operators, she charged them to implement multi-layered security measures; regular security audits, vulnerability assessments and timely software upgrades to be on top of their game against unwarranted access to their platforms.
She also advocated for the establishment of formal mechanism for information sharing; encouraging public-private partnerships within the telecoms industry as well as cross-sector to leverage expertise.
She noted that international cooperation and information sharing among countries can help curb eFraud, even as she advised security agencies, law enforcement agencies and cybersecurity experts to close ranks for easy measures to tame the ugly trend.