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419: Fraudsters Develop New Tricks

Daily Independent NG online - Despite what may be an obvious weakness of Nigeria's anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), watchers of the commission, both local and international, have come to agree that the body has been able to instill discipline in our banking system in the little span of time it existed.

Not only that, the body through its public enlightenment programmes have been able to enlighten Nigerians on the different aspects of Advance Fee Fraud, commonly called 419.

But, in spite of all these, the fraudsters seem to have invented a new trick, which they now use in tracking their unsuspecting victims across the globe.

The scammers have come up with a new twist to their 419 scams. In the past, many people who responded to the 419 e-mails simply did not have money to send the scammers needed for the victims to get their millions. To get around that problem, and to keep a willing victim in the scam, they have now developed financiers who will give the victim a loan until they receive the trunk box of money.

These financiers are just another arm of the gang that would play a role in the scam; they always grant the victim loan and often they offer the victim the choice of receiving the money from the financiers.

They would send the victim a cheque for the loan. The victim is to deposit the cheque in their bank account and then draw the amount of the fees and charges and wire them to the scammers via Western Union. The only problem is that the cheque is counterfeit and it is not usually known until it reaches the issuing bank long after the victim had wired the money to the scammers.

They would take the victim's bank account information and wire the money directly into it from another account. The victim is then instructed to either draw the money out and use it to offset the fees and charges to the scammers, or wire the money to a third bank account the scammers would give the victim.

The money is actually wired into their account from the accounts of other victims and thus becomes stolen property. The accounts provided by the scammers are either another victim's account or an account the scammers control, where they empty the money from the account almost as soon as it arrives.

In either of these scenarios, the victim is left holding the empty bag when the police get involved. The victim is the person who passed a counterfeit check and then drew money out of the account; money that has suspiciously disappeared. If the victim is unlucky enough to be in a location where the local law enforcement agency is not familiar with this scam, they may end up in prison. Many in the U.S. have done just that. Or when the victim in the scam call in the police; the police do what they would usually do in cases like this and follow the money – stolen money, which ends up in the current victim's account and then disappears again. This time, the current victim may be arrested and convicted on various money laundering charges.

In any variation or outcome of this scheme, the current victim is left legally liable to replace the money lost by the bank in the transaction.

Recent studies by law enforcement and fraud investigators in the UK have shown that the scammers are then doing what we call double-dipping the victim. The victim has given the scammers most of their identity information, and the studies have shown the scammers taking that information and using it to obtain other personal information on the victim that allows them to steal the victim's identity. They then open new accounts using the victim's stolen information and quickly max out the credit limits on those accounts, ruining the victim's credit. This can be corrected by the victim, but it usually requires the services of a lawyer to do so; and winds up costing the victim thousands of dollars more to repair the damage.

PS in some of the scams the scammers get the victim to provide collateral for the loans such as property, etc. and during the process the victim has given the person they thought was a lawyer (actually another gang member) a real power of attorney. It has yet not happened very often, but in a few instances this has caused the victim untold problems by clouding the deeds and titles to their property that would be needed to stand as collateral for real loans to pay the bank back their lost money.

Recently, the Tema Regional Police Command arrested eight Nigerians including two ladies for Internet fraud. Five computers and accessories were found in their rooms.

The suspects with ages between 18 and 26, made up of five unemployed, a musician and two students, were arrested in their rented house at Sakumono near Tema.

They have been arraigned before court and remanded pending investigations. Their names were given as Martin Fee, Akpesiri Unukegwo, Henry Ohimekpa, Patrick Ikane and Sunday Odo, unemployed; Joy Ilay, Princes Delekpe, students; and Gaius Itcheri, musician.

The Tema Regional Police Commander, Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP), Reynolds Kwakye, said acting on a tip-off police personnel conducted a swoop on their house. He said the police found the five computers and accessories hooked to the Internet as well as other paraphernalia at the time of arrest, which suggest that the suspects are fraudsters. The commander stated that the suspects, who are residing in the country illegally, are suspected to be engaging in Advanced Fee Fraud scam popularly known as 419.

According to him, they use the Internet to lure unsuspecting victims from abroad to dupe them in Ghana, thus bringing the country's name into disrepute.

He said the computers would be accessed critically for information relating to the crime.

ACP Kwakye assured the public that the police would work tirelessly to combat crime from the system, but appealed to the public to volunteer information for the arrest of criminals.

Bringing this home, the recent crackdown by operatives of EFCC on online fraudsters popularly called Yahoo Boys in areas like FESTAC, Oshodi, Ajah, Orile, all in Lagos metropolis, who daily throng cyber cafées to send scam e-mails to unsuspecting foreigners and Nigerians alike, is generally believed to be a good move aimed at redeeming the image of the country among the comity of nations.

In the last few days, the EFCC have spread its dragnets to several cyber caféés in major cities across the country, arresting many youths who have resorted to duping foreigners using Internet facilities.

President Olusegun Obasanjo had signed the Advance Fee Fraud Act into law, empowering EFCC to deal with online fraudsters. Online fraud has become the pastime of many idle Nigerian youths, who spend several hours on the Internet in search of the next victim that would fall for their enticing stories.

It was not surprising that the EFCC followed up immediately by visiting cyber café's in Lagos. Notorious hideouts of online criminals such as Festac Town and Orile in Lagos have not been spared. Many cyber crime suspects aged between 18 and 25 years were caught in the act of sending scam mails to Europe, America, among others.

Arrested along with them were the owners of the cyber caféés and landlords of the buildings in which they were located. A total of 74 computers were also confiscated during the raids and would be tendered as evidence in court.

Just recently, a new generation bank handed over to operatives of EFCC two secondary school leavers whose bank accounts were found to contain N18.7 million. The youths, who confessed to be unemployed, said they got the monies through the Internet. This is just a reflection of the kind of youth the society would breed if moral decadence continues to hold sway, one analyst said.

There have been various attempts by stakeholders in the industry including the EFCC, Cyber Crime Working Group (NCWG), a coalition of banks, switching companies and courier operators to ensure speedy passage of the cyber crime bill that would provide a legal framework to prosecute online fraudsters.

Mr. Basil Udotai, co-ordinator, NCWG, said the drawback being experienced in the prosecution of offenders was due to absence of appropriate legal instrument. He said this had led to the failure of NCWG, EFCC and the Federal Bureau of Intelligence (FBI) to successfully bring fraudsters to book.

Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, chairman, EFCC, at a recent one-day meeting in Abuja with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and cyber cafe operators, said the agency would launch an onslaught against the fraudsters. While noting that the proliferation of cyber cafes in recent past had led to upsurge in Internet-related frauds like dating, employment, scholarship and lottery, Ribadu said, "these activities must now be closely monitored". He said efforts should be made to discourage all-night browsing among youths.

Ribadu lamented the unavailability of basic text categorisation filtering software by ISPs and cyber cafe operators in their computers, which would have prevented the abuse of the facilities by criminals, adding that computers at public cyber cafes should be configured to block access to popular hackers' websites from where fraudsters download free credit card details and obtain hints on cyber fraud techniques.

He warned online fraudsters that they would go to jail if they continue. Engineer Lanre Ajayi, president, Internet Service Providers Association of Nigeria (ISPAN), however, deferred with Ribadu. "It is not enough to say that ISPs are not doing enough to curb the menace," he said, "some have deployed software that can identify and hinder scam mails, but there is need for collaboration between EFCC and ISPs to look into the issue and identify what needs to be done." It is not all about Nigeria.

Most industry analysts disagree with the general belief in the international community that larger percentage of the frauds originates from Nigeria.

They contend that several records and statistics show that online fraud is more prevalent in North America, Europe and Asia than in Africa. According to West African Organised Crime Section (WAOCS) in the United Kingdom and Australia, the Belgian Federal Police, the Phone Busters National Call Centre (PNCC) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, The Dutch National Fraud Bureau of the Financial Crimes unit and the Federal Bureau of Intelligence (FBI), USA, show that "some of the scam e-mails originate from other nations mostly from West African nations such as Ghana, Togo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, etc.

Latest statistics released in March by Ultrascan Advanced Global Investigations, a Dutch private investigation firm that has been studying 419 scams worldwide for a decade, showed that companies and individuals in the United States were defrauded of about $720 million last year alone. Total losses from 37 nations to these scams are almost $3.2 billion.

The United Kingdom has the second- highest losses at $520 million, while Spain and Japan were tied in the third position with about $320 million in losses.

The report stated that in March last year, Luis Gottschalk, the respected founding chairman of the psychiatry department at the University of California at Irvine, USA, fell victim to the trick and wired $3 million to some people purported to be in Nigerians.

Tom Mazur, spokesman for the United States Secret Service, which investigated the scams, said the criminals capitalise on victims' emotions and on people's sympathies sometimes.

Mike Hatch, attorney-general of Minnesota State, USA, said: "the bottom line is that no one has ever received the promised funds, and losses from participating in illegal foreign business deals are nearly impossible to recover.

According to, Osita Nwajah, EFCC spokesman, the provisions of the Advance Fee Fraud Act 2006 imposes a sentence of up to 15 years without an option of fine for anyone who permits his/her premises to be used for 419 activities. The bill also prescribes a jail term of up to 20 years without the option of fine for convicted 419ers.

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