By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Bahamians were yesterday warned they could "land in jail" for money laundering and/or fraud if they let others use their bank accounts for illicit transactions.
Superintendent Matthew Edgecombe, head of the Royal Bahamas Police Force's anti-corruption and financial crimes unit, said allowing others to receive and/or send money from your personal or business bank account should be "a no-no".
Speaking at a press conference where Commonwealth Bank warned customers not to fall prey to so-called "phishing" e-mail scams, he revealed that the police have "seen an increase" in these types of fraud across multiple financial institutions since the start of 2020.
Davine Dawkins-Rolle, Commonwealth Bank's vice-president of internal audit and credit inspection, revealed that the BISX-listed institution had first become aware of a two-tier "phishing" scam targeting its customers from May 2020.
She revealed that clients were being lured by fake e-mails into parting with their personal financial details and bank account information, which was then being used by fraudsters to steal money from their accounts.
The stolen money was then transferred into the accounts of other Commonwealth Bank clients who had been contacted, via Facebook, What's App, phone call, text or SMS message, to participate in a purported "mystery shopper" exercise.
While a scheme can be used legitimately to test the quality of customer sales and service, Ms Dawkins-Rolle said the fraudsters in this instance employed the Commonwealth Bank holders who received the funds to wire money abroad or purchase commodities such as Apple gift cards.
They were allowed to keep a small amount, typically $150 to $200, for themselves, and Commonwealth Bank is concerned that naivety and economic desperation - due to the high unemployment and reduced incomes associated with COVID-19 - could lure many Bahamians into becoming victims or unwitting participants in such scams.
"In late May 2020, the bank would have received notification from several of its customers indicating people had removed funds from their accounts without authorisation," Ms Dawkins-Rolle said.
"Those customers appear to have become victims of a phishing scheme.... The customers would have received e-mails, a lot of them in the form of alerts stating that a transaction has failed. A lot of them have links saying 'get help here', and they take the client to a web page that looks like the bank's."
Once they handed over their bank account information, Ms Dawkins-Rolle said the fraudsters transferred the funds taken to the accounts of those participating in the fake "mystery shopper" scheme.
Jermaine Williams, Commonwealth Bank's vice-president of enterprise risk and chief risk officer, said the scam had not impacted the BISX-listed institution's online banking platform which remains secure.
Urging customers to activate all necessary security features to protect their online accounts, and personal and banking data, Mr Williams added that Commonwealth Bank would never seek that information via an e-mail, text or online.
"Know the red flags, know the scams and the best ways to avoid being scammed," he advised.
Superintendent Edgecombe added: "From January 1 to now we have seen an increase of such type of frauds from various banking institutions; not only Commonwealth Bank but many banking institutions.
"My team are diligently investigating such matters and are having good results. We have questioned a number of persons. We have spoken to a number of our international partners in law enforcement to trace where those funds are being sent to."
He added: "I want to warn the Bahamian public to not become a victim or participant in something that will hurt you at the end of the day. If you're found to have assisted somebody it may be classed as money laundering, a number of fraud offences, and you may land in jail.
"We are investigating these matters very seriously. Don't allow persons to use your account. Many persons say: 'My friend asked me to use the account to deposit money, send money to some place else.
"That's a no-no. Whatever goes to your bank account, you can be held liable criminally and civilly.... A word to the wise is sufficient."