AFTER months on end of reading about one scam after another, with depositors staring at hijacked bank accounts swept clean, the authorities have finally awakened. In a major show of presence, the heads of the central bank and the police came together for a big pow-wow to reign in scammer and cybercrime perpetrators.
It is good to see the Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) openly making the right noises about the state of affairs on this front. Scammers have been hijacking bank accounts and sweeping them clean with almost reckless abandon for some time now. The incidents have been making headlines so often that you would be excused to think that the situation is getting out of control. We are glad that the central bank, as pointed out in the chief’s speech, “takes seriously” scams and cyber-crimes which have been on the rise of late.
At the onset, we agree that in many of these cases, the users are at fault. They have not been diligent in protecting their accounts, falling prey to the tricks of scammers. They should have been more careful.
But what about the role of the financial institutions (FIs) themselves? How did they behave as the cases were escalating and account holders were losing their hard-earned deposits?
In a speech last week, BNM governor Tan Sri Nor Shamsiah
Mohd Yunus “instructed” FI’s to take certain measures “to further strengthen safeguards against financial scams”.
If I was seated listening to the speech, I would be a little uncomfortable. Do you know what the troubling underlying message is from the governor’s statement above? The fact that the central bank had to swing a bat to get the FIs up and about. Were they thumb-twiddling all this while?
For good measure, she announced five measures. Here is Measure No 2: Financial institutions will further tighten fraud detection rules and triggers for blocking suspected scam transactions. Customers will be immediately alerted when any such activity involving their banking accounts is detected.
Say what? Why have the banks not already been doing it? I’m sure money is not an issue. They have been posting huge profits every quarter, merrily singing all the way to the bank, literally. So, why the complacency?
And let us jump to Measure No 5: Financial institutions will be required to set up dedicated hotlines for customers to report financial scam incidents. Financial institutions have been directed to be more responsive to scam reports lodged by customers. Financial institutions have also been directed to facilitate efforts to recover and protect stolen funds, including working with relevant agencies to prevent further losses.
Now, you don’t want to get people started. A good many victims of scams are vexed with the way the banks have treated them. As mentioned earlier, we agree that they may have been at fault to allow scammers to worm their way into their accounts. The minute the bank gets that confirmation — that the users had indeed done something to put their online accounts in peril — they would just wash their hands off. As they say in Malay, “lepas tangan”. You can almost hear a short sigh of relief that the bank is not at fault.
Measure No 5 is a recognition of the indifference shown by these big money-making entities. So much so that the banking big boss had to literally tell the banks that they better start helping the poor victims. Somehow, it reflects badly on the banking fraternity as a whole when the central bank had to direct them “to be more responsive to scam reports lodged by customers”.
If that is the case, it is time for the central bank to produce a report card on how the banks and other financial institutions are responding to the measures announced. Make it public. We wish them the absolute best.
- Habhajan Singh is the corporate editor of The Malaysian Reserve.
- This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition.