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More lamentations as USSD fails, banks keep mum on fund reversals

By Adeyemi Adepetun
03 February 2023   |   1:47 pm
The embattled Nigerian banking public suffered further woes yesterday as banks Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) platforms failed to deliver for customers.

Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD). Photo: VICTORMOCHERE

• *737#; *901#; *966#; *894#; *919#; *711# codes top the list
•Expert warns against hacking as banking apps crash

The embattled Nigerian banking public suffered further woes yesterday as banks Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) platforms failed to deliver for customers.
USSD banking is an SMS-based mobile banking service, where a USSD short code is used to access financial services like transfers, bill payments, and airtime recharges, among others.

Many bank customers switched to the USSD platforms to carry out financial transactions due to their inability to get cash over the counter in the banking halls, coupled with the fact that the Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) are not dispensing cash, while the Point of Sales (PoS) terminals are now a no-go area because of the exorbitant service charge by the merchants.

As of yesterday, PoS merchants charged as much as N700 on any N5000 cash withdrawal. Painfully, if you want to get N20,000, you are asked to split it into four different places of N5,000 each and the customer is still charged N700 on each. This means that on N20, 000 withdrawals, the customer must cough out N2, 800.

With the hope that USSD platforms would help to reduce the pressure, it turned out to be a nightmare for most users as transactions declined.

Checks by The Guardian showed that some transactions that appeared to have gone through on these platforms, which could take as much as 30 minutes to deliver, were later discovered to have failed. “Painfully, the funds were not reversed,” claimed Gbenga Adekoya, who used the *737# platform.

Adekoya said: “After spending the whole of yesterday (Wednesday) at the banks with no success and the ATMs also didn’t dispense cash, I decided to explore the USSD platform to send money, about N15, 000 to my mum in the village, the money left my account, didn’t get to destination and reversal was not made by the bank.”

For Emmanuel Nwankpa, who wanted to use the *901# code to buy fuel, “on getting to the filling station with no cash, I decided to make a transfer of N5000. When I made the transfer, it showed an error. The fuel attendant, after about 20 minutes, said she didn’t see the alert. I left, only for me to get to the house to discover that my account was debited with N5000. Until now, my money has not been reversed.”

Other USSD codes found culpable in this mess include *966#; *894#; *919#; *711#, among others.

To aggravate the customers’ pains, due to the pressure from all sides, banks’ apps appeared to have crashed too or performing at their lowest ebb.

The Guardian learnt that a major bank among the new generation ones had to disable its app about two days ago to ensure there was no total collapse of the applications and guard against possible hacking. This brought further hardship on the bank’s customers.

A customer of the bank, Kareem Bodunde, said: “When I couldn’t get cash for about two days and the ATM has been besieged by crowds, I moved to the banking apps, but several attempts made, never went through, it was my wife, who happens to be a banker that alerted me of possible shut down of the particular app. This is no more funny because we have money and to access it has become a major headache.”

While urging banks to be more careful, especially now to avoid hackers hacking their applications, telecoms expert, Kehinde Aluko, said banks should upgrade all their online platforms, USSD and their applications.

Aluko said going by what is happening in the banking sector, “I won’t be surprised to hear that hackers have hacked into banks. People cannot have access to their funds, they are stranded, and bills are piling up, some dangerous things are in the offing.

“Going by the current level of traffic moving towards USSD, bank applications, it will be very dangerous if the sector authorities just fold their arms to watch as things get to chaos level.

“Unfortunately, many bank apps in Nigeria do not have the capacity for the number of transactions we are witnessing at the same time right now. Banks must upgrade and quickly be on the alert to forestall possible cyber-attack. They need a stronger firewall now than ever.”

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