Banks investigate fraud incident at Airtel Money

David Birungi, the Airtel Uganda Public Relations Manager, Airtel Uganda and Japhet Aritho, the Managing Director Airtel Mobile Commerce Uganda Limited (PHOTO/Courtesy)

The Airtel mobile wallet, a platform for banking transactions using the Airtel network remains inaccessible a week after the system was first disrupted.

Transactions, particularly withdrawing money from bank accounts to mobile wallets were disrupted since Friday, last week when the customers could not have their transactions completed.

Later commercial banks started issuing notices to their customers after Airtel Mobile Commerce Uganda Limited (AMCUL) said the Bank-to-Mobile money and bulk transactions have been suspended for certain partners.

Some sources at the company say the services were suspended after hackers infiltrated the mobile money system and syphoned out amounts of money said to be between 30 and 50 billion Shillings.

But Mobile money transactions, or moving money from one mobile money account to another, including across networks have not been disrupted.

Requests for information from AMCUL were referred to an earlier statement issued on the incident.

“This incident has had no impact on any balances on Mobile Money accounts and our customers continue to enjoy all other Mobile Money services uninterrupted,” said the statement by management.

The statement said some of their partners had already resumed transactions by Sunday and that “the remains will be restored as soon as possible,” adding that incomplete transactions at the time of the suspension would be reversed.

The value of mobile banking transactions grew by 146.1 per cent from 2.11 trillion in March 2021 to 5.2 trillion Shillings in March 2022, according to data from the Bank of Uganda. The growth was attributed to the convenience of the system which cut out the need to go to banking halls and enabled communities in remote areas to access banking.

In comparison, transactions through debit and credit cards were worth 1.7 trillion Shillings, according to the Bank of Uganda.

This is not the first time that cybercrime is hitting the banking industry. A total of 15.9 Billion Shillings was lost in 2020 through cyber fraud according to the Criminal Investigations Directorate of the Uganda Police. The head of the department, Grace Akullo said this was across different sectors including telecom companies, banks, ministries and individuals, and was the biggest cyber fraud in the country.

Between October 2 and 3, hackers accessed the system run by Pegasus technologies, an aggregator of MTN Uganda, Airtel Uganda, Stanbic Bank and Bank of Africa, causing a loss of 11 billion Shillings, according to CID.

The incident has been reported both to the Bank of Uganda and the Uganda Bankers Association, who have previously implored the telecom companies to consistently upgrade their security system to avoid a repeat of the 2022 incidents.

The investigation is on by the company’s security department to ascertain whether the fraud was orchestrated by former staff, outsiders or insiders, the latter of which could see the banking industry sanctioning Airtel

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