AIRTEL UGANDA is on the spot with hundreds of customers accusing the telecommunication’s giants of blocking and withdrawing large sums of money from their Airtel Money accounts without authorisation.
This is the story…
According to insiders, black hats on May 8, 2023, tweaked Pride Microfinance’s software and hacked into the institution’s banking system, stealing money amounting to Shs1.8 billion in the process.
The stolen money, we have learnt, was then sent to random Airtel Uganda phone numbers on Airtel money by the hackers, and the money would later be withdrawn.
We are yet to establish of it was an Airtel inside job yet.
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Thankfully, before the criminals could withdraw all the monies (totaling to shs1.8 billion), Airtel and Pride Microfinance detected the hack job and the telecom company moved and blocked all phone numbers, and later withdrew whatever cash it found there indiscriminately.
However we understand the hackers completed transactions on over 1000 registered SIM cards before the daring raid was stopped in its tracks.
The telecom, we are told, accused whoever received cash on their numbers as having a hand in the hack job. But this was not true.
It must be noted that the hackers sent money to these phone numbers randomly.
Airtel has since returned some of the affected people’s cash (after mounted pressure from these particular individuals) but many are still desperately demanding for their money.
And shockingly, Bank of Uganda and Uganda Police have received complaints from mobile money agents and individuals affected but not much has been done.
Infact, we can authoritatively confirm that Police has so far refused to open case files for any complainants.
Xclusive UG confirms that only a statement from Airtel Uganda was recorded and an official complaint opened at the Police Cyber and Counter Electronic Measure Desk at Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) headquarters in Kibuli, Kampala.
A case file, SD/REF:74/09/05/2023, was also opened at Kiira Road Police station.
The Airtel customers who have lost millions have instead been tossed around with not much solution.
A case in point, one customer (names withheld) lodged a complaint to the Director National Payment System at Bank of Uganda on 16th May.
The customer is yet to receive any feedback.
And we have learnt one of the phone numbers the hackers used to withdraw money is 0754272691.
This particular phone number withdrew Shs3.5 million from the above customer who runs an Airtel Money agency at her Forex bureau in Kampala.
Airtel has since confiscated the agent’s Shs4.9 million.
We have in our possession the complaining customer’s letter to Bank of Uganda:
She wrote: “I’m writing to make a complaint about Airtel Uganda that deducted money amounting to 4,994,608 from my line registered with them 075 in the names of *** on 12th May 2023.
We woke up to check our line and it had zero balance we called AIRTEL CUSTOMER CARE and they told us to hold on that they will get back to us when we saw there was no reference given to us, I went to their services center and asked to speak to manager who referred me to their security office at Bugolobi.”
She adds: “On reaching Bugolobi at their office I was told there was a fraud at Pride Microfinance amounting to one billion that was stolen and deposited on Airtel lines so AIRTEL decided to confiscate all money that was linked to that crime. So we were told to go to Kira police station.
On reaching the police station I found there lots of people complaining about the same issue. We were grouped on how the money was linked to us.
I was put under level 3 whereby my case I worked on a client who came to withdraw money from my agency whose money was linked to the fraud money. I was told that a number 0754272691 withdrew 3,500,000 from my agency was linked to the fraud at pride micro finance.
When we are operating mobile money we can’t tell criminals and non-criminals we call them clients our duty is to deposit money and withdraw money from clients we can’t tell that this money we are withdrawing is stolen because all clients walk in the same way. We were told our money was confiscated and was put on a suspense account. I’m requesting to help me demand our money back because we have no link to the crime our duty was to pay their client which we were contracted to do.
I have attached my transaction register, case number and screen shots of the transaction I made that led to the confiscation of our money.”
What is mindboggling is why Airtel which should be protecting it’s customers’ deposits has refused to look at the CCTV footage at her business to help in investigations and tracking down the fraudsters.
“You may need to engage your lawyers and most probably sue airtel if you think they are responsible for your loss. Otherwise, I have nothing to do for you. Enjoy your evening,” an Airtel employee identified as Leonard Byambara (from audit) arrogantly told off the agent when she offered video footage.
We contacted Airtel (above is the MD, Manoj Murali) for an official communication more than twelve hours ago, we are yet to get one.
Pride Microfinance also remains coy about the scam.
This is not the first time a hack job has messed up Airtel Mobile Commerce Uganda Limited (AMCUL) known publicly as Airtel Money.
In around 2018, hackers used a website of a gaming platform in Uganda to plunder money from the systems of Airtel Mobile Money.
Like with this case with Pride Microfinance, cybercriminalsin 2017 used the betting company as a gateway to Airtel’s digital systems.
After tweaking AMCUL’s software to approve every transaction that came along, the hackers drained its central systems of just under Ush8 billion in a meticulously planned operation.
They (hackers) launch an attack that is known in the hacking underworld as a black box attack.
Airtel has always insisted that their platform is
“…secure and built to world-class specifications to give our Airtel Money customers an instant, safe and secure experience.”
The affected customers might disagree.
Cyber attacks have in the recent past grown in their frequency and ferocity.