From Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
Yes you are a point of sale (POS) operator or intend to become one in the near future, then you should heed this warning: beware of people coming to you to use your machine or account number to transfer huge sums of money money.
For all you want, they could be kidnappers. And if you fall for their tricks, pleading ignorance or innocence may not save you from the wrath of the law. So? You must beware! The kidnappers changed tactics. And, any wrong move in your attempt to make a quick buck can land you in big trouble that you never imagined. Ask Ajah Emeka, an POS operator based in Benue State. An alleged kindness he showed to a client has now landed him in trouble with the law.
Businessman who operates an outlet store, in addition to other small businesses in the Chitto community of Ukum Local Government Area in Benue State, he is now in the net of the Nigerian Corps Security and Civil Defense (NSCDC) as an accomplice in a kidnapping and ransom case.
POS Operator’s Lament
He recently collapsed and cried like a child as he marched alongside suspected kidnappers. According to Emeka, a certain Abraham Toryem. popularly known as Jabi, had approached him to help a friend, who turned out to be his brother-in-law, transfer money which Jabi believed was to be used to start a rice farming business.
Unaware that she had been sold a dummy, Emeka innocently gave Jabi her POS account number to use to transfer the money. But trouble started for the outlet’s operator when, after the transfer, his account was frozen by his bank for no apparent reason.
He explained his situation to Sunday from Saturday. Listen to him: “I asked him what the money was for. He said someone wanted to send it to him so he could help him start a rice farm. He said he didn’t have an account. I innocently gave him mine. Shortly after, I discovered that my account had been blocked. I went to Makurdi to complain to my bank. It was at the bank that I was directed to the NSCDC State Command. Again, I went there innocently. If I was a criminal, I wouldn’t have gone to the bank or the security office, knowing full well what had happened. But from my innocent heart, I went as directed. When I did, I was detained. It was while I was in detention that I was told exactly what had happened. I actually came here to Makurdi twice to find out what was going on. They asked that I be brought into the cell. It was the second day that they told me that I was detained because my bank account number had been used to receive a ransom. I was surprised to learn this.
He said it was the doing of nothing criminal that drove him, after graduating from college a few years ago, to fight to set up his small business. He then wondered why someone he wanted to help would trick him into complicating a crime he knew nothing about.
“I have been in this POS business since I graduated from Enugu State University of Technology (ESUT) about five years ago,” he said. “I started doing this transfer of a thing when POS wasn’t rampant.”
When asked why he gave his bank account number to someone he didn’t know how to use, he replied, “Chitto is a remote village and I help people with my outlet. There is no bank in this village. From Chitto to Zaki-Biam where you can get banks, you will have to pay around 600 N for transport to get there. People usually have trouble getting to the bank, so I help them. I have a very large point of sale stand in Chitto. So, out of kindness, this guy came to my shop. I like to see young people progress because after school I too had a lot of challenges before finding a job.
“When he came, he lied to me that his Oga (boss) wanted him to start a rice farm. I didn’t know it was kidnapping money. He told me his phone battery was dead and asked if he could use my account number. At that time, I had many customers in my shop. So I sent my bank account number to the person who was to make the transfer in the form of an SMS. But after some money was wired there, I found out my account was frozen. It was January 2022. I didn’t even know what was going on. But when I came to inquire, I was thrown inside the cell. I have been here for 40 days now.
Pointing to Toryem who was parading with him, he said, “He’s the guy who came to my shop. I know him very well. His name is Jabi. He came with someone claiming to want to buy a rice field. He used me.
But a sweet drama occurs when, going all the way around to face her, he says to her point-blank: “I am suffering and you are happy. Do you know what you did to me? You broke my life. What have I done to you to deserve this? You dealt with me. He then collapsed.
Refusals and confirmations
But Toryem or Jabi, the man at the center of the storm also pleads ignorance and innocence of the crime. He claimed that it was his brother-in-law, a certain Sebastine Hidejime, who approached him for help so that they could get money through money transfer. According to him, he did it without knowing what the money was for.
His story: “At one point my brother-in-law who married my sister told me that I had to help him get to where he could make a cash withdrawal. So I took him to Emeka. I didn’t know my brother-in-law was in the kidnapping. It was later that Emeka told me that the money transfer we made to her account that day got her into trouble. I also didn’t know it was a bad deal. I thought I was helping a brother-in-law.
Hidejime, the prime suspect, not only corroborated Jabi and Emeka’s claims of ignorance and innocence, but also confessed to being a member of a kidnapping gang that specializes in car and bus hijacking. He said his gang only used Emeka and Jabi to get the ransom money, although he insisted the pair knew absolutely nothing about the whole deal.
“It was a friend of mine who asked me to help him find someone who could help him withdraw some money and I told him that my in-laws live in Chitto. So I called him to help my friend get the money back. He said Sunday from Saturday“I am part of a gang of kidnappers but the other members did not let me know when they finally got the ransom money. Since I was arrested I have called them to come, but they didn’t. There are about four of us in this gang but the one I personally know among them is called Tugi. In truth, my brother-in-law and his friend POS don’t know anything about this business. We We only used them to get ransom money from our victims.
Arrests and warnings
NSCDC Benue State Commander Dr Philip Okoh who paraded the suspects at the State Command Headquarters in Makurdi gave details of how the money was traced to the POS account by Ajah Emeka. He said the alleged kidnappers kidnapped a bus with 18 passengers on December 12, 2021.
“The bus took off from the handicraft market near Wukari Federal University in Taraba State but was later diverted to Ukum LGA in Benue State. The vehicle was carrying 18 passengers. One of the kidnapped victims was later released, he said, after paying a ransom of 300,000 naira. Others, it was learned, also paid ransoms of various sums to the kidnappers before they were later released. Okoh informed that unbeknownst to the suspects, the bank account used to collect the money was tracked and as soon as the money was paid into it, the account was blocked and the matter was reported to the NSCDC.
It was later discovered that the said account belonged to a POS operator who ignorantly gave it to a customer to transfer the said money without knowing it was a ransom.
“From our investigation, we found out that some POS operators were used to transfer the funds. That’s why one of the POS operators is here. They transferred, first of all, N300,000, then another N250,000. Then another POS operator received N200,000 on different days and times. The arrests took place at various times. One was on 11 Feb 2022 and the other on January 7. The main suspects were arrested on February 11.
The NSCDC boss has issued a warning to all outlet operators nationwide. “I want to use this forum to warn those who operate outlets that if someone comes to your booth and asks for your phone to use your account number on the grounds that someone is transferring money to them, beware of these people. Be very careful.”
He pointed out that such transfers could cause them big problems. “Anyone who wants to make a transaction must come with an ATM and not make a transfer. We discovered that it was the phone number of one of the POS operators that had been used to negotiate the ransom, without him knowing what they were doing. Thus, POS operators must be very careful in their activities so as not to encounter problems,” he warned.