Easy, safe also for criminals
Mobile money transfer has become a way for kidnappers and extortionists to get money as the electronic fund transfer system lacks the means to verify identities of account holders.
Criminals can register with popular mobile money transfer services like bKash or Dutch-Bangla Bank Ltd with an unregistered mobile number and a fake national ID card, kidnap a person and ask for the ransom to be sent via such mobile financial services.
Law enforcers, Bangladesh Bank and mobile money transfer operators have detected several such cases.
Lt Col Ziaul Hassan, chief of Rab's intelligence wing, said the force gets 10 to 12 complaints of this sort from across the country every day, mostly regarding extortion.
For example: PK Banerjee, an abduction victim tortured mercilessly by a criminal gang in Narsingdi on July 6, said his family had to pay gang members a total of Tk 3.05 lakh through bKash in multiple transactions.
It is almost impossible for law enforcers to track down kidnappers and extortionists as they use mobile numbers that have not been registered and fake national ID cards to register with and get mobile financial services. After they are done with their criminal activities, they simply throw away the phones.
The mobile money transfer services were introduced two years ago to get a large number of phone users, who do not have bank accounts, to have some sort of banking services.
People with their phones could transfer money from one mobile to another and agents could help deposit money in their phones.
One can walk into the office of any of the providers with the photocopy of a national ID card or driving licence or passport and two photographs and get one's phone registered for mobile money transfer services.
If one gives false information or fake documents, there is no way for the service providers to verify those as they do not have access to the national ID card database, said a top official of a mobile financial service provider.
But banks can always verify the addresses of customers and also ensure the identity through an introducer who has an account with the bank. This enables law enforcers to capture financial criminals.
Kidnappers and extortionists use bKash and Dutch-Bangla Bank Limited's mobile money services, the two prominent mobile financial service providers in the country with around 60 lakh account holders, said a high official of Bangladesh Bank.
Abul Kashem Md Shirin, deputy managing director of the Dutch-Bangla Bank Ltd, said as people are transacting without having a bank account, there have been criminal activities.
“We will have to appoint people to verify the account holders' identity to ensure KYC [know your customer] to reduce corruption. We also need access to the NID [nation ID card] database.”
Kamal S Quadir, Chief Executive Officer of bKash, said, “The security of a mobile financial activity is protected through a combination of the user's PIN and his or her registered SIM [subscriber identification module].”
His company follows the central bank's regulations, he said.
TIM Nurul Kabir, secretary general of Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh, said since the operators did not have online access to the server of the national ID card database, it was not possible for them to verify the authenticity of customer information.
A BTRC official told The Daily Star that a month ago the telecommunications regulator sent a letter to the Election Commission requesting access to the NID server so that operators could verify customers' information.
The secretary of the Election Commission said they had received the letter and that there was no problem on the part of the commission in sharing the database. He said technical aspects of the sharing were being looked into.
Sources said once the BTRC gets access to the database, carriers will be able to verify the credentials of its customers properly.
Ashim Kumar Dasgupta, an executive director of Bangladesh Bank, said the central bank was going to ban agents from transferring money to other agents so that people without a mobile account could not transfer money.
According to central bank regulations, the agents are responsible for depositing or helping people withdraw money from their own accounts.
Ashim said an account holder would also be limited to sending a certain amount of money and certain numbers of transactions. On an average day, around Tk 125 crore changes hands through mobile banking, he said.