“The availability of e-mail has helped to transform a local form of fraud into one of Nigeria’s most important export industries.” – Insa Nolte, a lecturer of University of Birmingham’s African Studies Department
Greek George Makronalli was 29 years old when he was invited to South Africa in 2006 to complete a lucrative deal with his new business allies. On arrival, his host supposedly took him round on a familiarization tour of infrastructures on ground for the smooth take off of their enterprising deal. At a particular point however, he suspected foul play when he noticed that many things were amiss in the deal. He tried to back out but his host won’t succumb, a situation which culminated in several bitter outbursts. George was overpowered, kidnapped, and murdered in cold blood, when his family failed to pay a stipulated ransom. This incidence sparked off INTERPOL investigations into the matter. George, however, is not the only one who had died after falling mugu (victim) of internet scams.
In November 2003, Leslie Fountain, a senior technician at Anglia Polytechnic University in England, set himself on fire after falling victim to a scam; Mr. Fountain died of his injuries. In 2006, an American living in South Africa hanged himself in Togo after being defrauded by a Ghanaian 419 con man. In 2007, a Chinese student at the University of Nottingham killed herself after falling for a lottery scam. That’s not all.
In February 2003, Jirí Pasovský, a 72 year-old scam victim from the Czech Republic, shot and killed 50-year old Michael Lekara Wayid, an official at the Nigerian embassy in Prague, and injured another person, after the Nigerian Consul General explained he could not return $600,000 that Pasovský had lost to a Nigerian scammer. While death is usually at the extreme, the usual aftermaths of successful scams are monetary losses.
In a 2006 report produced by a research group and reported by BBC News, it was estimated that internet scams cost the United Kingdom economy £150 million per year, with the average victim losing £31,000. Individuals are often the worst hit.
Nelson Sakaguchi, a director at the Brazilian bank Banco Noroeste, transferred hundreds of millions of US Dollars to Chief Emmanuel Nwude, Nigeria’s most accomplished scammer. The scam led to at least two murders, including that of one of the scammers, Mr. Blessing Okereke. The scam was the third biggest in banking history, after Nick Leeson’s activities at Barings Bank, and the looting of the Iraqi Central Bank following the March 2003 US invasion.
In 2008, Janella Spears, an Oregon woman, lost $400,000 to a scam, after an e-mail told her she had inherited money from her long lost grandfather. Her curiosity was piqued based on the fact that she actually had a grandfather whose initials matched those given in the email. She sent several hundreds of thousands of US dollars over a period of more than two years, despite numerous opposing views from her family, bank staff and law enforcement officials. It is therefore evident that internet scams are devastating and spell great doom for national economy and global security. This wasn’t the intention of the founding fathers (and mothers) of scamming.
In the late 1800s, Western Union allowed telegraphic messages on its network to be sent to multiple destinations. The first recorded instance of a mass unsolicited commercial telegram started from May, 1864. Until the Great Depression of the 1930s, wealthy North American residents were deluged with nebulous investment offers. This problem never fully emerged in Europe to the degree that it did in the Americas, because telegraphy was regulated by national post offices in the European region.
Arguably, the aggressive email spamming by a number of high-profile spammers such as Sanford Wallace of Cyber Promotions in the mid-to-late 1990s contributed to making spam predominantly an email phenomenon in the public mind. Prior to 2009, most spam mails sent around the world were in the English language; since last years however, spammers had began to use automatic translation services like Google Translate to send spam mails in other languages.
Throughout the history of spamming, one fact remains clear- spam was meant to facilitate access without which marketers wouldn’t have been able to contact their prospective customers. However, as deeply rooted in the human mind, abuse of anything is inevitable. Scamming gives access, what the user now does with the access is left to individual choice. Spams were majorly used for advertisement, product promotion and awareness in the past; starting from late 20th century however, spamming has found its synonym in crime and criminalities.
Spam can be used to spread computer viruses, trojan horses or other malicious software. The objective may be identity theft, or worse (e.g., advance fee fraud). Some spam attempts to capitalize on human greed whilst other attempts to use the victims’ inexperience with computer technology to trick them (e.g., phishing). The question that now rises is how could spamming be successfully carried out in a country like Nigeria that is on every published publication on internet scam? The answer, according to the active yahoo boys consulted, is simple, use the tools!
A serious scammer starts with the purchase of a secure IP address from any of the online proxy address retailers for a token. To know how it works, I got one from proxy.com with the aid of a credit card (I will come to that later on). Instantly, my IP address was changed to that of Cyprus. With this, a scammer is able to hide his identity. The next stage is getting the email addresses of prospective mugus. While some internet scammers have and share a mailing list, advancement in technology now makes email list creation relatively easier with the use of email extractors. I was introduced to emailextractorpro.com.
According to its manufacturer, Email Extractor is the software that allows email marketers conduct their email marketing campaigns without any efforts. “Our intention was to create affordable, flexible and efficient email marketing software.” The software allows users to access several large diverse databases like America Online (AOL), Google, Yahoo etc, as well as create some addresses via encoded algorithms.
When email addresses are collated, the scammer then begins to send emails based on the specialty of the fake sender. Wikipedia has a good feature on the different sectors under internet scam, go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advance-fee_fraud. It is however worthy to note that the common ones are the next-of-kin, wire transfer, goods purchase, check cashing, lottery scams, and internet romance. Others include those related to charity, fraud recovery, Craiglist, Bona vacantia (ownerless property) and several others.
Communication with potential victims is another challenge in spamming considering the fact that callers originating from Nigeria are handled with greater caution. When I was told the way out, fear gripped my heart.
My ‘lecturer’ typed UKNumbers.com into the address and I was guided through a short step which resulted in a free UK cell number (+17023037975) that automatically diverts calls to my cell number in Nigeria.
As shown in my experience, the booming nature of internet fraud in Nigeria is as a result of a 3- faceted strong collaboration and complementation that include foreign empowerment, Nigerian factor, and evil ingenuity.
I’ve come to realize that all tools, websites and s
ervices being used to perpetrate internet frauds and scams are not made in Nigeria, but abroad. For those involved in credit card detail theft for example, Graham King is a name that readily comes to mind; he is the genius at darkcoding.com, a place where credit card numbers could be gotten free of charge. The testimonies of the site’s visitors are also appalling, although Graham claims the card are fake.
Users like Dineshkumar Ponnusamy used one of the cards to buy something worth 3500 Euros, another reader claimed to have purchased a Sony laptop with one of the credit cards. This shows that all the ideas behind scam did not originate from Nigeria; the softwares that are utilized are not created in Nigeria, but downloaded from numerous foreign sites with scammers whose reputations are legendary in the business of scamming.
According to a 2009 Cisco Systems report which listed the origin of spam by country, Brazil, USA and India are the origin of about 17.9 trillion spam messages per year with Brazil blazing the trail. Nigeria, as notorious and synonymous as the country’s name is with scam, is not even on the top ten list which makes one wonder what is peculiar about Nigerian scams?
My interactions with young boys who daily throng cybercafés revealed that unlike their foreign contemporaries, Nigerian scammers are more desperate, a situation that makes their impacts harder felt than other scammers in other parts of the world.
In America for instance, citizens are not at a greater risk of being swindled, it’s the stores, shops and other establishments like banks. In India, telecoms companies like Mobitel are the major focus of internet scams. On peperonity.com and other social network platforms, Indian IT gurus share free call cheats with contemporaries while software design and advanced hacking are the major sources of revenue generation. To the Nigerian scammer however, everyone is a potential mugu- poor single black mother of 4, terminally ill patients and fellow Nigerians could be swindled. Many things are responsible for the peculiarity of Nigeria’s case.
One of such is the large number of scammers around. Nightly across the nation, especially in the south, several hundreds of thousands of Nigerians of all ages type away on keyboards. With each one of them knowing that thousands like him or her are sending the same message to probably same recipients, victim selection is left out. This makes one inquire why there are so many people interested in internet scams.
Based on my observations, I won’t blame unemployment and poverty; this is due to the kind of cars some of these scammers ride, and the evening shift scammers who are married old men who also try their luck. The most tenable reason would be the relative ease with which internet scam is carried out here, the complacency of Nigerian government and its agencies, and the gradual acceptance of internet scam as an acceptable vocation in some Nigerian cultures.
The roles of the Nigerian government in promoting internet scam are of high magnitude, and seem to be responsible for Nigerians’ online fraudsters’ status.
In 1997 for instance, an American was swindled by a Nigerian scammer who claimed to be an official of the CBN (most scams are woven around the CBN). During the course of investigation, she produced valid CBN phone numbers. Furthermore, when told to identify some staff, she was able to convincingly identify three top CBN staffs that were lined up. This shows that the CBN’s house, like most arms of the Nigerian government, is leaking. ATM fraud is another point of reference to the corruption in the Nigerian government.
In the course of my research, I learnt that when victims sheepishly give their bank account details, scammers send such details to someone with an ATM card printing machine that produces an ATM card for the account details provided, and such cards could be used at any ATM machine or POS terminal. One begins to wonder and ask how the machine got into the wrong hands. However, one stops wondering after realizing the fact that this is a country where submarine ammunitions, rocket launchers and war guns are in the creeks without an explanation on how they got there in the first instance, how much more a small concealable ATM printing machine?
In another similar scam in 2004 involving a number of Nigerian fraudsters, investigators asked Nigerian government to apprehend the beneficiaries of the largess since the wire transfers were traced to them. They got the shock of their lives when the Nigerian government said it wasn’t possible to arrest identified perpetrators. Our banks are also playing the role of devil’s advocates for internet fraudsters.
For a non fraudulent international wire transfer, it takes a minimum of 10 days for a transaction to be completed in UBA and Zenith Bank while it could take several weeks or months in banks like First Bank. But for a well connected internet fraudster, bank transfers could be completed within hours to 2 days into untraceable bank accounts in any part of the world. How are they able to achieve this feat against the purported background of unemployed fresh graduates, and annual JAMB UME candidates? One of my respondents informed me that they have insiders in some banks that help them with wire transfer. Another infiltration is that of the law enforcement agencies.
The notoriety of the Nigerian Police Force is monumental. In addition, Nigerian internet fraudsters are organized into what they call hoods with godfathers that bail them out of any trouble encountered. Such troubles include EFCC arrests, Police incarceration and border complications. It is only those who are not well connected that are arrested in the Nigerian scam sphere.
NCC is another agency whose helpless haplessness leaves much to thought.
I inquired about the possibility of blocking these websites that provide internet scammers with their tools. I was made to understand that it is as simple as ABC to block a website with particular themes. Some incidences in the media confirmed this.
Few months ago, I wanted to download a BBC Sports podcast but was told that access from my region is restricted. I tried using the hide-my-proxy IP that I procured online all to no avail. This shows that it is very possible to ban some websites from being visited in Nigeria. Iranian government successfully clamped down on social network websites during the last general elections when the opposition was utilizing the medium to instigate rebellion in citizens. This further shows that it is either NCC officials don’t know what they are doing, or are benefiting immensely from the status quo.
The last reason for the thriving nature of the Nigerian scamming industry could be traced to the pre-colonial era when whites- Americans and Europeans, were seen as superior to the citizens of the colonized nations. According to a good source, yahoo boys are showing the world that Nigerian youths are smarter than the smartest whites. This is compounded by the inability of most of those duped to report such incidence to relevant authorities to guard against any negative implication or retribution. As far as scamming is concerned in Nigeria and the dark days when banks and major companies would be victims are not far away.
Recently, there was technical compromise at MTN Nigeria, an incidence which gave hackers access to MTN database. Unlike before when message from 0803 were certified as directly from MTN, these hackers now send messages to subscribers with different claims. An uncle once fell victim as he was told to pay ten thousand Naira for the transportation of a giant screen TV he won in an MTN contest he never entered. To effectively checkmate internet frauds and scams is a simple individual responsibility;
we should stop being greedy and opportunistic.
On a daily basis, Prayer Mountains across the nation are filled with miracle seekers who pray for God’s hands to miraculously bless them. When such individuals receive such emails or SMS, they think it’s God that has answered their prayers. Their knowledge of the scriptures that all has roles to play ion miracle perfection makes them go along with the mind game being played by the fraudsters and before they realize God’s innocence in the whole deal, scammers had eloped with their hard earned resources, starting another bout of frustration, rejection and poverty. The emotional impact of being duped was placed on the same scale with rape in a recent New York Times publication.
To combat scammers therefore entails individuals not being greedy, selfish and unreasonably optimistic. Satisfaction, contentment and hope are the bedrock and themes of a life that cannot be defrauded. No matter how good an internet scammer is, there is no means of forcefully taking money out of the pockets of an individual that is not greedy.
NNC also needs to update its knowledge on internet safety. There are numerous recent means of combating online crimes, frauds and scams that the Ernest Ndukwe- led agency is evidently not aware of. All actions would be taken serious when there is an enacted legislation that criminalizes internet frauds. This evidently goes down to the House of Assembly which is regrettably full of people who can’t even speak good English language, talk less of providing laws that could effectively curb internet misconducts. How many of them know how to operate an ordinary Facebook account when all they could ask a prospective minister was her culinary skills?
Nigeria’s dreaded status in internet scam is in no way as a result of the skills of the scammers, but the inability of the Nigerian government to checkmate it, even when strong evidences could steer towards easy resolution. Our government is unserious; the regulating agency has no idea, the law enforcement agencies are compromised and the yahoo boys are having a field day until when someone who knows what to do comes on board. Till then, the message is simple; you’re on your own!