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What secrets do the BVN hold?

Credit: Madailygist 5 mins read

A WhatsApp Message claimed that an exposed BVN does not give a fraudster access to your money; they’d instead, get information such as Name, Date of Birth and Phone number.

According to findings, the claim stating that fraudsters won’t be able to do anything with an exposed BVN is on track.

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BVN – Bank Verification Number – has, of late, been a subject of discussion since the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajiya Sadiya Umar, opened applications for the N-Power scheme. 

While some initially embraced the initiative, others later on, who claimed to be victims of hacking, cite vast sums of money they claimed to have lost to exposure of their BVNs.

These accounts of fraud may not be unconnected to a circulating message which claims that Power was compromised, losing a batch of BVN details. 

However, N-power, via social media account has since then responded to the circulars, stating that the inferences were false. The agency further advised N-Power beneficiaries to disregard the information. Also, reports by Vanguard and this check by ICIR have set the record straight.

Meanwhile, enter this WhatsApp message which suggests that leaked BVNs do no more than reveal information such as DOB and such. 

What risks come with exposing your BVN?

BVN, as we already established, means Bank Verification Number. The Central Bank of Nigeria introduced it to uniquely verify the identity of each Bank’s customer. The apex bank had argued that this initiative for ‘know your customer’ (KYC) purposes”,  is designed to reduce fraud activities and to increase the efficiency of banking operations. Customers accessing credit facilities would also be an added beneficiary from the CBN’s initiative.

For a long time, the popular belief was that if a third party got hold of another person’s  BVN, such a person’s account became at risk. Bad actors could use the BVN number to obtain vital financial information from the owner for fraudulent purposes. An excerpt from an article reads, “with your BVN; fraudsters can get your account number, the phone number you use for OTP and the rest of your financial information. With these details, they can take loans on your behalf without your knowledge, use your ATM cards to purchase items online and even withdraw/transfer money from your account.

However, the information in this article appears to be obsolete if we are to believe this WhatsApp chain message which necessitated this check. According to the claim-author, the “worst that could happen when people have access to your BVN is to know your details (Name, DOB, Phone number, etc.)…”

Given the conflicting information surrounding the BVN, Dubawa deemed it necessary to set the records straight by reaching out to experts on digital banking.

Expert opinions

When we contacted Mr Erhabor Precious Esosa, an account officer in Access Bank, he said he could publish his BVN on Facebook, and nothing would happen. According to the officer, the worst-case scenario was an impostor gaining access to the information about the holder of the account: ‘The only way you can be scammed if your BVN is exposed is if you give personal details about the account. You cannot merely steal money or withdraw money from a person’s account with just the BVN. the person needs to have other personal details which can not be gotten from the BVN that is why the scammers call the account holders to get them.’

Mr Kent, a banker at the United Bank for Africa (UBA), threw additional light on the topic. He said the readily available information that can be accessed by anyone is the biodata- the date of birth, state address and phone number: “If you give someone your account number, the person can get your BVN through it from a personalised unified platform for banking. However, your account can only be accessed either through OTP or the debit card details linked to your account.

The UBA banker further added: “So at the end of the day, if one has your BVN, he still needs to get in touch with you before any fraudulent transaction can occur. Either he accesses your debit card and gets details or cajoles you into giving him your OTP code in the disguise of a banker seeing he has accessed your bio-data from your BVN.”

Similarly, the Central Bank Director, Corporate Communications Department, Mr Isaac Okorafor said “BVN is the customer identification number. Disclosing one’s BVN carries the same risks as revealing one’s account number. We all give our account numbers to anyone who may want to transfer money into our accounts.  This is almost the same thing as giving your BVN out.  
The only risk with BVN is that it exposes all your banking relationships.  It tells banks and those eligible public agencies which have access to the system where you have accounts.”

In the bid to further clear the air on this topic, Dubawa reached out to some of the applicants of N-Power, asking them if they noticed any strange activity on their bank accounts after applying for the program.

Ms Lara Oseni, a Lagos based graduate who applied for the scheme, revealed that besides the usual charges from the bank, she has a full account of her monies. She added, “I registered, but money wasn’t deducted from my account. I don’t know where they are getting the information from, I don’t know if it is false or real but so far so good, nothing was deducted from my account. Also, no one around me has complained or said anything about that. I have not gotten any strange message so far aside from bank charges, nothing extra.”

Mr Oladele, who also applied for the N-Power programme, said he, as well as his friends, have not experienced any unauthorised activities on their bank accounts.

Even as uncertainty rocks many on Twitter about this topic, people were still registering. Some users have tried to douse the tension by suggesting to others that BVN alone cannot be useful to hackers in defrauding account owners.

Conclusion 

According to findings, the claim stating that fraudsters won’t be able to do anything with an exposed BVN is on track.

The explanations obtained from experts from this field show that no one can withdraw or transfer money from an account with only BVN details. For this to be possible,  additional details which can only be gotten from account owners are needed. It is for this reason that banks advise customers against giving out their bank-related information to unknown callers. 

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