Introduction of Single Official Number for Contacting Customers set to reduce Fraud

Some years ago, when she was still inexperienced and gullible, a niece of mine received a call from Nairobi. The caller took his time to enquire and confirm her personal identity and other details before telling her that she’d won Kshs 200,000 in one of the then mobile phone-based promotions.

But there was a catch: she needed to send the caller ‘just’ Kshs 3,000 to enable them organize how to send her the Kshs 200,000 windfall. Excited, my niece, then fresh from college, managed to raise the Kshs 3,000 as directed then sent it to the caller, her purported benefactor, via MPESA.

From here, the caller started taking her in circles until she realized, over 2 days later, that she’d been conned. Frustrated, she reached out to me to find out if I was aware of such scams. I just sympathized with her as there was nothing much I could do apart from maybe call the scammers and shout at them.

Tales like that of my niece are not uncommon.

Stories of victims who were called then scammed by fraudsters purporting to be representing reputable organizations are numerous. Some pretend to be either telco or bank employees seeking details about a particular transaction or trying to ascertain the unsuspecting victim’s identification and personal details such as passwords and PINs.

It is little wonder that a 2017 TrueCaller report listed Kenya among 20 countries most affected by spam calls globally. The report, titled Truecaller Insights Special Report: The Top 20 Countries affected by Spam Calls, noted some common categories that tie all the spam calls together – operators, debt collection, bank, political, health, telemarketing, financial services, scam/fraud and insurance.

Worth noting is that for Kenya, scam/fraud calls made up 91% of the reported spam calls, with TrueCaller stating in the report that the calls were made from people’s names instead of business entities. Apart from scammers, financial service providers (promoting offers and short term products) contributed the second-largest volume of spam calls, with a small volume of the calls coming from those who just want to disturb the contact person (maybe after getting someone’s contact by mistake).

To guard their customers and even business partners from unwarranted contact from unscrupulous individuals, organisations have been introducing various measures, including coming up with ways by which targeted customers can identify (and report) such types of communication.

Safaricom, for example, has 0722-000-000 as the official number. It is through this number that the telco reaches out to subscribers and the public in case of any issue – be it a blocked SIM card, inform lucky winners of various promotions, to address MPESA challenges encountered by customers or to respond to subscriber’s top-up queries.

And it’s not only Safaricom that has set up an official number for reaching its customers in an effort to guard from potential fraud. Financial institutions have also joined the fray, with Equity Bank introducing a universal number for contacting its customers.

Like Safaricom, Equity currently contacts its customers through a single universal number – 0763-000-000.

The One Number roll out also comes a time when most Kenyans have adopted digital banking and financial service platforms for the majority of their transactions due to movement and personal health restrictions introduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As most currently make transactions through their mobile phones, being certain and confident about the number from which your bank calls (or reaches you via SMS) is a very important concern for customers.

Having (and being sure of) the single number from which your bank can reach you also helps customers avoid the anxiety and uncertainty that they have to deal with whenever they are contacted from different numbers.

Here is a case in point. Imagine a situation where, in a single day, your bank contacts you from three different numbers. The first call informs you that the cheque you deposited was not honoured as there were no sufficient funds in the drawer’s account; followed by an SMS stating that the funds you had in your account have been deducted as penalty fees for the bounced cheque. Then just before you retire home for the night after a long day, the bank reaches out via SMS, and from a number different from the previous two, this time informing you that the standing order for your pay-TV subscription and Sacco contribution couldn’t be completed on the date you’d set due to insufficient funds in your account. Won’t you be left confused?

With the One Number rollout, however, this has changed. All Equity staff – from your branch manager, relationship manager, account opening officer, credit or loan officer, insurance officer, agriculture officer, procurement manager, investment advisor, shares buying or selling agents among others  – will only reach customers using the universal number.

Overall, Equity introduced the 0763-000-000 number for all outgoing calls to make it easy for all customers and stakeholders to easily identify calls from the bank, thereby enabling customers to know when it’s actually the bank contacting them via voice or SMS.

To reach or contact the bank, customers can call back the number 0763-000-000 or or 0763-063-000 from any mobile network or by calling 100 from Equitel.

Apart from guarding customers against potential fraud, the other benefits of the bank’s universal number include:

  • Enhanced customer experience as customers will now know which number Equity staff engage them with, making it easy for them to identify the bank
  • The number is easily identifiable and can be recognized at a glance by customers, making them respond faster to calls and get assistance promptly.
  • Reduced fraud through call impersonation as the number is distinct yet simple enough to recall. Account-holders who receive calls purporting to be from an Equity staff and the Caller ID is not 0763 000 000 should cancel such calls and report the number by sending it to 333.

The One number rollout, which is part of the bank’s recent rebranding, is meant to enable the financial services provider, present itself as a unified brand to its more than 14 million clients. Basically, a one-stop-shop offering integrated financial services under a single brand identity.

Apart from the ONE number, other measures introduced by Equity to protect users of its various platforms from potential fraud include the following:

Text Messages: All SMS Messages from Equity will only be from the ‘EQUITY’ or ‘EQUITEL’ Sender ID and not from personal numbers.

EazzyBanking App: Has new features that include introduction of a one-time PIN (OTP) ensuring customers receive a verification code sent to their registered mobile number for every transaction they initiate. This gives them more security when using the app. The app also allows customers to log in using their fingerprint for devices that support biometric authentication. This is in addition to the option of using a PIN for login.

Equitel: Now has a new feature to ensure that before customers finalise their transaction, they have an opportunity to reconfirm the transaction. At the final leg of a transaction, Equitel prompts the user to confirm a transaction by typing 1 TO SEND and typing 2 TO CANCEL. This is part of Equitel’s endeavor to get customers to confirm (or “hakikisha”) that they want to send money to that person’s number or account number.

EazzyNet: To log onto the EazzyNet channel of banking, the online banking platform for retail customers, one gets a One Time Pin (OTP) that they then use to transact successfully. The OTP is sent to the mobile number registered at the bank.

Beyond single official numbers for contacting customers, and with fraud and cybercrime increasingly becoming key concerns for corporates and customers alike, more concerted efforts and measures are required to protect customers against these incidents.

A 2019 report by McKinsey titled Financial Crime and fraud in the age of cybersecurity, noted that in a world where customers infrequently contact bank staff but rather interact almost entirely through digital channels, “digital trust” has fast become a significant differentiator of customer experience. “Banks that offer a seamless, secure, and speedy digital interface will see a positive impact on revenue, while those that don’t will erode value and potentially lose business. Modern banking demands faster risk decisions (such as real-time payments) so banks must strike the right balance between managing fraud and handling authorized transactions instantly,” stated the McKinsey report.

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