The Dangerous Rise of Internet Fraudsters - FAITH ADAMA'S BLOG

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Monday, 30 July 2018

The Dangerous Rise of Internet Fraudsters


Cyber crimes
By the day, internet fraudsters, otherwise known as yahoo boys, are acquiring new techniques and sophistication, and posing more danger to society. David-Chyddy Eleke looks at the ever changing modes of operation and affluent lifestyle of the con artists
In the capital city of Awka, Anambra State, Fridaynights are when the music-loving crowds, mainly youngsters, like to get into the groove.  The nightclubs are rushed, busting at the seams with a usual assortment of scantily clad ladies.
At a popular club in the heart of the city, recently, the bouncers had a tough time tending the gate to ensure that urchins didn’t find their way inside. Aside fending off those unwanted guests, the mood was pretty much relaxed until about 11pm, when, suddenly, the atmosphere became intensely charged. The excitement in the air was palpable. The reason was that a group of young boys, numbering over 15, were making their way from the parking lot to the club.
At the entrance, the erstwhile hostile bouncers, who had harassed virtually everyone, seemed mesmerised by the presence of the new guests. One of the boys, believed to be the leader, had after passing through the gate, reached into the pocket of his shorts and drawn two bundles of freshly minted N1, 000 notes, removed the wrappers and sprayed the notes over the gate. While everyone, bouncers inclusive, scrambled for their share of the money, boy joined his friends in the VIP section of the club.
Once in the club, all attention was on the boys as they ordered and downed bottles after bottles of exotic drinks. At interval, music and light went off, and a bell tolled. This reporter upon enquiry was told that it was the tradition in the club, anytime a customer was to be served a particular brand of alcoholic beverage named XO. The drink was said to be sold for N180, 000 per bottle, and to accord it respect, it was the tradition to turn off all light and music, while it was being served on a customer.
Seeking to know who the young men were, a fun seeker at the club who gave his name as Nedu told THISDAY, “Is it ‘Ome Ego’ (money maker) and his boys you are asking after? Who doesn’t know them in this town? They are among the big guys here. Any club they patronise, it’s a big day there.”
About 2am, when they finally left the club, taking along with them some ladies, and driving in a convoy consisting of various exotic cars, the look of envy on the faces of other young men, and the look of admiration on the faces of the ladies, was clear evidence that they would do anything to belong there. But my fun seeker friend told me in a low tone: “These boys are yahoo boys ooo, I think they have even entered yahoo plus“.
The yahoo boys are loud and extravagant.
Widespread Evil
Internet fraud has become rampant, and it is no longer seen as evil in some settings. Gone are the days when such persons are named and shamed. These days, one can categorically state that it has more or less become a sort of get-rich-scheme for most unemployed youths. Even in cases where employment is made available, some of these youths would choose it above other gainful employment.
On the trail of Scammers
In Awka, diligent investigation shows that a lot of youths are involved in the crime, and have occasionally come by huge cash, swindled from unsuspecting greedy people, both within the country and outside the country.
A student’s hostel in Okpuno area of Awka is reputed to be mostly occupied by scammers. A source said even though the apartments in the hostel, which are single room self-contained,  were very expensive to rent, the scammers still preferred to rent them because of the presence of facilities that aide their work.
THISDAY gathered that the rent for the hostel (name withheld) was fixed at N200,000 per annum because of the perks it comes with, including constant electricity supply. Checks further revealed that for days, most of the boys would squeeze themselves in one room  and would do not venture out, as they stock their refrigerator with food, while they remained inside for days, thumbing their laptop computers, making endless calls and perfecting their deals.
From their apartments, which are mostly the ones on the top floors of the three- storey building, THISDAY gathered that the boys observed a high level of security consciousness as they had people on guard to monitor movement in the compound for strange faces.
A tenant in the compound, also a student, who refused to disclose her name, said immediately the reporter asked about one of her neighbours, a suspected scammer, “I don’t know if he is around, maybe he travelled. Why not call his number?” From her tone, it was obvious she was merely trying to be cautious, because when this reporter reminded her that the occupants of the apartment were more than one, she excused herself from further discussion.
Modus Operandi
However, another student had no qualms about being forthright. The student, one Somtochukwu (surname withheld) told THISDAY that the scammers had several ways in which they operated, ranging from hacking bank accounts and transferring funds to separate account, to offering inexistent goods and services to prospective business men and also posing as lovers to love seeking adventurers, who they eventually scam.
He stated, “I must tell you that those boys are truly gifted, just that they are applying their gifts negatively. Among them, they have code breakers who break into peoples’ bank accounts and transfer their funds to other accounts. They also have connection among their kind all around the world. Let me tell you, because of the spate of arrests they suffer while going to withdraw money transferred to separate accounts, what they do these days is to transfer such funds to foreign accounts, from where their accomplices in those countries withdraws them, takes their commission and remits the balance back to them.”
Ezenwankwo said that in love scams, the fraudsters acquire equipment which helps them to successfully hoodwink aged and rich widows from US and UK and other countries. “When professing love to American women, these fraudsters don’t pose as Nigerians. Nigeria has a poor image everywhere in the world, so these boys don’t accept that they are Nigerians. They pose as whites, and try to show contentment, and in most cases, they take pictures of white people which they steal from people’s Facebook wall and send to the women. They go as far as acquiring hi-tech phones that can enable them download software which gives voice enhancement shielding their local accent.”
Ezenwankwo told this reporter that they are high-tech phones which have software that change people’s voices, and that there are others which have the ability to show fake images installed by the user, in the case of video calls. “Watch most of those boys who do this thing, you will find out that they normally use the same kind of phones, and it is usually iPhones, or other expensive gadgets that have some peculiar features.”
A cyber café operator, Mr Ibe Okwudili, told THISDAY that the days when internet fraudsters used commercial computers to carry out their activities were gone. He said “These days, you don’t even see them carrying laptop computers about, they simply lock themselves up at home and do their thing. Before now when they use to go to public cafés, you had to be careful because those boys are wizards. They can pretend to be using your system, but you won’t know they have installed one thing or the other, which they use to pick the passwords of other people who had previously used the system before them.”
Okwudili, who marvelled at the ingenuity of these fraudsters, also acknowledged that they spend a lot of money to get their catch. He said, “For those who are mainly into love scams, there are some dating sites where rich men and women go to find love, and for those sites, you have to pay heavily, using your credit card for you to be able to access them. So, for them to attract rich people, they have to pretend as if they are rich themselves, including spending money to access the site.”
Meanwhile, Ezenwankwo, who seemed to know a lot about fraudsters, said he has friends who are still in the business. Corroborating Okwudili’s claims of the huge expenditure made by the fraudsters to net a client he said, “One of my guys who is into that thing recently made some money. He posed as a Kenyan, while dating an American lady who is single, but advanced in age. He did not want to disclose to her that he was a Nigerian because we have become synonymous with fraud. Do you know that this boy will buy gifts here in Nigeria, courier it to Kenya, and now pay again for the gift to be re- routed to US, just to prove that he was a Kenyan. He even promised to send money to the lady, until the lady got curious and invited him to US. He declined, saying he had some debt to pay and needed to work hard to pay off the debt.
“At that stage, their supposed love had advanced, and having been deceived that the ‘Kenyan’ was reasonably okay and wasn’t even interested in her money, she decided to send the money. That was how the lady willingly sent money to him to clear the debt with his business partners. He also had a tough time withdrawing the money because it was paid to a bank in Kenya. He had to liaise with some of his colleagues in Kenya who charged a certain percentage before pulling the money out. With that, all connection with her was terminated.”
Charm Connection
He also stated that besides their ingenuity in technology and sheer deceit, manu the fraudsters aided their work with charms. “They patronise traditional medicine men a lot. Sometimes, after chatting a ‘client’ through messages for long, they now settle for calls, and at that stage, they rely on charms which they have collected from medicine men, in the hope that once you hear their voices, you are compelled by a spiritual force to do what they told you.”
‘Yahoo Plus’
Ezenwankwo said there was another category of scammers known as ‘Yahoo Plus’. According to him, those ones have gone past just internet fraud. He described this category as those who are involved in money rituals. Noting that most young people are part of this, he said it entails sacrifices which may also include human beings.
He alleged that presently, a lot of young men were into it, with young girls used to perform the ritual. “They pay young unsuspecting girls well, and demand to have sex with them, without protection. If the girl agrees, they have dug their own grave because from that day, they begin to die slowly, while the young man begins to make real money.”
Solution
For an Awka based lawyer, Henry Mbaegbu, the only solution to avoiding being scammed was to shun greed. He said greed was the major reason most people fell for the lofty promises of scammers, who they do not know, or never met before.
Many are of the opinion that the value system of the nation needs a major overhaul back to the time when contentment was the order of the day. They also note that one of the key solutions to this menace is making employment opportunities available to the youth to veer them from a life of crime.
Nonetheless, the security agencies also have a role to play in ending this trend by making sure those caught in the act are prosecuted within the ambit of the law and not to be released based on the offer they put on the table. (Thisday)