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by Michael Malakata

MasterCard, Airtel Mobile Plan Flies in Face of Cybercrime

Sep 22, 20115 mins
Data and Information SecurityFinancial Services IndustryInternet

Virtual card will be linked to mobile money services

Despite an upsurge in cybercrime targeting the financial sector in Africa, Standard Chartered Bank, Airtel Africa and MasterCard have partnered to launch the region’s first virtual card linked to a mobile wallet.

Most major commercial banks in Africa including Barclays Bank have already signed agreements with telecom companies that allow customers easy access to their bank accounts using mobile phones to make some online payments.

Through MasterCard’s partnership with Airtel Africa, millions of people in the region who do not have bank accounts but have access to the Internet via mobile phones will now be able to buy goods online using the new virtual cash card that linked to the mobile wallet.

The mobile service dubbed “PayOnline” is linked to the Airtel mobile commerce offering — Airtel money.

The PayOnline solution is a unique way of ensuring that customers transact is a digital world without having to have a credit card or use their physical debit card, according to Kariuki Nagri,

Standard Chartered Bank executive director, Kenya.

.The African region is experiencing an explosion of mobile money services as banks and mobile providers compete for customers who could otherwise not have a bank account.

However, there is also an upsurge in cybercrime targeting the financial sector. Phishing attacks on unsuspecting customers have increased in effort to lure them to fake sites and steal their personal details, which are then used for transactions. The phishing attacks are mainly occurring in South Africa, where online banking is common, while mobile money theft is common in other parts of Africa.

Earlier this month, one of South Africa’s largest commercial banks,Amalgamated Bank of South Africa (Absa) was forced to suspend online payments for transactions through online payment processing portal Eassypay because one in three deals were discovered to be fraudulent, according to the bank. Fraudsters were illicitly entering credit card details into the site to buy prepaid products such as airtime and electricity to sell them at a profit.

Easypay is an online portal that allows people to buy airtime, electricity, pay traffic fines and other bills. Absa claimed that at least 500,000 rand (about US$68,000) in illicit transactions have so far been reversed by the bank this year.

Cybercrime in the region has increased following the lowering of bandwidth and internet connectivity by undersea cables.

South African consumers are exposed to online attacks because it is the only country in sub-Saharan Africa with a developed online banking service and is Africa’s largest economy. Other countries in the region do not offer full-fledged online banking services because most of the population do not have bank accounts — but criminals have not spared them either.

Cybercriminals in East and West Africa have been using mobile phone based tricks in which subscribers receive fake messages informing them that they have won money and are asked to transfer a certain amount via the phone as a “processing fee.”

MasterCard World, Standard Chartered bank and Airtel Africa believe however that their online transaction system is secure and will provide secure and efficient services to customers.

“The introduction of the new product will address the huge gap between banks and mobile phone operators,” said Fayaz King, Airtel Zambia managing direct at the launch of Airtel money last week.

Registered Airtel customers will be able to make purchases across Africa from any site where MasterCard is accepted. Airtel Africa has a presence in 16 countries in Africa including Zambia, Uganda, Kenya and Malawi.

With phishing attacks on the increase and less security provided on mobile and online transactions, many people fear that they will lose their money to scammers.

“Airtel has not said the security system it has put in place will ensure safe and secure transactions,” said Lillian Mwale an Airtel money customer.

The bank of Zambia, however, said the increase in mobile banking will help overcome the longstanding challenge of reaching out to the unbanked population.

“The use of electronic system will reduce the use of cash in the economy. We therefore encourage the usage of alternative means of payment,” said Austin Mwape, Bank of Zambia deputy governor for operations.

Mwape said the Bank of Zambia expects a safe, efficient, secure and reliable transaction service.

Some telecom companies in the region already have arrangements with online payment providers such as Paypal that allow the transmission of funds from users in the U.S. and Europe to their relatives’ mobile phones in the region via online accounts.

The push toward convergence of various services offered by commercial banks and telecom companies is not only providing easy access to bank accounts but also helps cut transaction costs, increase efficiency and profits.

But fears are rampant that African countries lack the skills, equipment and organizational abilities to fight cybercrime. Generally, ignorance has been cited as the reason many people in Africa fall prey to online scams as criminal’s websites are built to entice and make people fill out even intimate details.