Dear Mrs Usula Owusu-Ekuful, Minister for Communications and Digitalisation,
The immense benefit of the mobile money system is not in doubt. It is described by a research source as “the most preferred digital payment method in Ghana”. But what seems to be missing is a regulator.
An ongoing, ordeal I am being subjected to by Vodacash has led me to the conclusion that Ghana urgently needs an Ombudsman/Ombudsperson to assist mobile money customers when there is a dispute, perhaps borrowing from the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission (PURC) concept.
However, if there is already such an office in Ghana, then it should make its presence known – and felt.
My harrowing experience has compelled me to make this an open letter, in case others have also gone through a similar hassle by any mobile money service.
In short, a wrongful Vodacash prompt requesting my PIN, has caused me to lose money I can ill afford and the company doesn’t seem prepared to assist me to get a refund.
What has turned into a puzzling, drawn-out saga began this way:
On Tuesday, 9 May, 2023: I sent my ward to Zodiac Pharmacy, at Dansoman Estate, to buy some items for me. I paid by mobile money, using Vodacash, Vodafone Ghana’s money transfer system and I got the following receipt/message on my phone:
(Transaction number:) “0000004818937046
“Confirmed. GH364.00 sent to (a Zodiac pharmacy number) on 2023-05-09 at 15:52:05. Your Vodafone Cash balance is ….
“Reference: Ms Yeboah-Afari.”
Then some five minutes later, I got a prompt on my phone requesting confirmation of my ID. Thinking it was to do with the Zodiac transaction, I keyed in my PIN.
But, to my dismay, the receipt that came stated:
“Paid to D010000 – FIRST ATLANTIC BANK LIMITED. On 2023-05-09 at 15:57:48. …
Clearly the prompt I had received asking for my PIN, had been sent to my phone by someone’s mistake! I had unwittingly supplied my PIN and paid a bill I knew nothing about!
But, I wondered, how on earth did someone’s transaction bill cross into my space for me to receive that prompt?
- My transaction that day was with Zodiac, and I paid them GHȼ364.00.
- I had not bought anything costing GHS368.37 from any entity.
- I have never had any business with the First Atlantic Bank.
- I have absolutely no idea what the “Reference: MAIN-evening” means, or relates to.
Yes, I was wrong to respond to the prompt to confirm my PIN, but how was I to know that Vodacash would facilitate a wrong request for my PIN – as evidently happened?
Nevertheless, my expectation was that when the parties to that mystery transaction, and Vodacash, had reconciled their accounts, they would realise that someone had been billed by mistake and a wrongful payment deducted.
I reasoned that way because, for example, on the occasions when an ATM has gone faulty and money has not been dispensed despite issuing me a receipt, it doesn’t take long for my bank, the GCB Bank Ltd, to notice the error and refund my account.
But evidently, there is no such self-monitoring system with the mobile money services. It’s some three weeks now, and still no sign of my money being paid back!
Trying to lodge a complaint has been extremely tiresome. Eventually, I got through and on Wednesday, May 10, a Customer Care agent called back and assured me that they would look into the matter; and I would hear from them within five working days.
On Friday, May 12, I got a text message indicating that the problem had been solved – or so I thought. So I sent the following response:
|“Subject:||Incident ID: 1-1QR1HR3K Ms A.Yeboah-Afari, wrongful Vodacash deduction|
“In response to my complaint, with the above Incident ID, I have received a message saying it has been resolved. Thanks very much. When do I get the refund, please?”
But there was no response.
On Monday, May 15, I went to the Vodafone office at Dansoman Estate, Accra, to lodge my complaint in person. An agent explained that if the money was still in the recipient’s account there was a possibility of a refund, otherwise he didn’t think I could get my money back, as I had provided my PIN.
On Tuesday, May 23 Vodafone sent me another, repeat, text:
“Dear Customer, your reported complaint with incident ID 1 – 1R12650W has been resolved. For further enquiries, visit https://bit.ly/ASK_TOBi, or send an email to [email protected] for corporate issues. Thank you.”
Yet, as at the time of writing this article, I haven’t received any reply to three emails to Vodafone. I guess that their “your reported complaint … has been resolved” is their code for ‘we take no responsibility for this problem’. But is that fair?
My communications with Vodafone indicates that to the agents they don’t make mistakes; that once I had entered my PIN, the fault is mine, not theirs.
Strangely, despite having made it clear that the transaction I had initiated had been with Zodiac Pharmacy, one agent even told me that they had checked with the First Atlantic Bank and had been told that I had initiated the transaction myself, at the Unicom Chemist Ltd!
Surely, somebody at Vodacash should understand that Zodiac Pharmacy and Unicom Chemist are two very different entities?!
Even more curious, the two messages informing me that the complaint “has been resolved” now seem to have vanished from my phone!
Still, fortuitously, I got another proof that same period that Vodacash can, and does, make mistakes!
On April 27, I had paid my Ghana Water Company Ltd (GWCL) bill for March, by Vodacash and got a receipt immediately, but I didn’t get, as expected, another immediate receipt, from GWCL, too. To my shock, on May 15, when GWCL sent my April bill, the March bill had been included, meaning that they had still not received from Vodacash the money I had paid on April 27!
To me this is clear proof that Vodacash does make mistakes! It’s just that they don’t want to accept responsibility. Obviously, on May 9, if I had not just done a Vodacash transaction, I would not have received that ‘intruder’ prompt. Definitely, if I had received a prompt out of the blue, I would have ignored it.
It appears to me that there is big loophole in the mobile money system if an unknown telephone number can enter another customer’s space, leading to a wrong prompt, causing loss to an unsuspecting customer.
In my view, my continuing ordeal demonstrates that Ghana needs a regulator or Ombudsman to ensure assistance for customers if, and when, they find themselves in my May 9 situation leading to a loss of GHȼ368.37 for no goods bought or services rendered!
Vodacash should kindly explain why I received that May 9 prompt, at that particular time. And I need my money back!
Utility services customers have the PURC to assist with complaints, and evidently, the mobile money sector, too, would benefit from having such a regulator.
Honourable Minister, who knows how many other mobile money customers have suffered similar losses, enabled by a wrongful prompt?