India’s Bank of Baroda expose worsens: Agents steal money from accounts

India’s Bank of Baroda made it simple and easy for its agents to steal money from the accounts of its customers. And some of them did steal 2.2 million rupees ($27,000) from 362 customers, internal audit reports and records of the bank have revealed.

The audits come after an expose by The Reporters’ Collective (TRC) and Al Jazeera, which showed the bank’s employees had linked unauthorised mobile numbers to customer accounts that were missing a registered mobile number to onboard them on the bank’s new mobile banking app, bob World. These unauthorised mobile numbers were of bank staff, managers, guards, their relatives and bank agents in remote areas.

The story warned that the bank’s underhand tactics, devised under pressure to boost registrations on its app, could lead to identity theft and pose a grave risk to the money of customers. The bank admitted as much in internal emails last year. “It is a fraud-prone area,” multiple emails about the bogus mobile numbers noted.

Now, internal documents of the bank’s head office acknowledge this malpractice and show that the bank’s agents, called business correspondents, have withdrawn tens of thousands of rupees from customers’ accounts by using mobile banking. Six customers have lost upwards of 110,000 rupees ($1,330) each, whereas one lost almost 177,000 rupees ($2,140). One agent stole more than 390,000 rupees ($4,750).

The bank’s head office has asked the managers concerned to “initiate necessary action for recovery and restoration of money in customer accounts”.