Prospects of mobile phones money laundering: who monitors?

17Mar 2016
Assumpta Nalitolela
The Guardian
Back to principles and standards
Prospects of mobile phones money laundering: who monitors?

A few days ago, the media had it that some mobile phone companies had been fined for reasons that were not that clear but the surface reason was that customers were complaining of being robbed their money through mobile phones.

Indeed, if someone slashes your money from your mobile phone account when you haven’t made a call or you haven’t received any service, then that is daylight robbery!

Now you can just imagine how much money has been ‘stolen’ by these companies from some of us who are not even keen on making a follow up on the few coins we leave in the accounts.

I sometimes wonder whether the airtime bundles received correctly reflect the time allocated and whether the time they say you have spent in a call you have made truly reflects the time you have actually spent in that call.

Anyway, am just thinking aloud about the outcome of this entire hullabaloo but all is not lost because I further heard that TCRA is destined to rein in the ‘cheating’ companies in a bid to protect the consumers.

I told you in my last week’s article that you mess with the communication services consumers you will have their ‘guardian angel’, TCRA to answer to. Well done TCRA if you will manage to do that!

However, this is not the only way that the mobile phones may use to commit fraudulent acts.

They are many ways and the worst is the possibility of supporting criminals in cleaning dirty money through their systems; that is, supporting money laundering processes whether consciously or unconsciously. TCRA should take a note of this!

You know mobile phones have taken over some banking functions like those of opening and maintaining customers’ accounts, transferring funds between phone numbers of the same company or to other phone companies and banks. Now they even lend money to their customers.

They cannot be called banks as such but according to section 3 (b) of the Anti- money laundering Act of 2006, they are called cash dealers and have the same obligations as banks when it comes to money laundering.

But who is monitoring them? Indeed, a system has been created to handle money laundering matters but most of them usually pin down banking and financial institutions but not mobile phones.

Bank employees with a clear conscious are cautious on this matter.

They have been trained to recognise suspicious money laundering transactions that could have injected dirty money in the banking system for the purpose of making it clean.

They are keen on the people they want to do business with by fully obtaining information on whomever wishes to open an account with them through their ‘know your customer’ concept.

We are all aware of the detailed forms we have to fill when we open bank accounts, the references they need, the documents that we are supposed to produce and sometimes they even visit our home and office premises before they open an account.

All this is to ensure that they understand their prospective customer well, his/her sources of income and how much on the average a person gets from the sources.

They have been trained to notice even unusual transfers getting into the account. What about the mobile phone companies?

Is the information required for registering one in a mobile phone company sufficient? We all know that, what is required is just the information provided on your Identity card.

I once read in one of the websites I usually go through that in Kenya, M- Pesa facilitated the laundering of fake currencies making Safaricom, the concerned mobile services provider to be keener on enquiring deeper information about its customers.

How far are we sure that this is not happening in our country?

It is a pity that I cannot even suggest how money transactions through mobile phones could be monitored;

but having considered the risks generated by money laundering actions that include boosting criminal activities, destabilizing markets and economies, threatening the survival of banking and financial institutions, I feel that the brains of this country need to sit down and develop systems that could monitor money transfers through the mobile phones before it gets too late if we are actually not already late.

When we talk of nabbing suspicious transactions through bank accounts there should be a way of doing the same through mobile phone money transactions.

If there are stringent measures on the banking system while the mobile phone system that also transfers money is left unchecked, it is quite certain that criminals are going to take advantage of that.

The author is a veteran banker currently working as a part time lecturer at Stella Maris, Mtwara University College, a constituent college of the Saint Augustine University Tanzania.
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