By Nnamdi Ojiego
In this special report, Sunday Vanguard examines the menace of internet fraudsters otherwise known as Yahoo Boys and the dangers it poses to society.
A few days ago, a story was told of how Obinna, a 30-year-old agricultural commodity export businessman, was fleeced of $150,000 by those who posed as commodity buyers from Dubai.
Upon investigations, it was discovered that the bank, which purportedly sent the letter of credit from New Zealand to a bank in Nigeria, is no longer in existence.
It was further learnt that the criminals also used a forged letterhead from an Italian bank to carry out the dubious transaction.
But because the bank in New Zealand doesn’t operate again, it has become a vehicle of fraud by Yahoo Boys to defraud and hoodwink unsuspecting people like Obinna.
This unpalatable experience has become a daily tale in Nigeria. Many Nigerians, irrespective of economic standing, have been scammed in one way or the other. The question is: Who are the people defrauding everybody in Nigeria and beyond?
They are known. They are everywhere in every neighborhood and can easily be identified. They are young, very young; most of them wear dreadlocks and sagging pants. They congregate in small groups and make so much noise in bars, hotels and apartments.
They smoke shisha and abuse drugs and substances like cocaine, tramadol, cough syrup, S.K. and loud among others. They enjoy the company of skimpy dressing young girls who hail and edge them on. They celebrate their ‘wins’ by throwing wasps of Naira notes on the streets. They are now audacious. They are criminals, fraudsters and scammers. They are our children and our siblings. They are Yahoo Boys.
Their audacity was displayed recently when some students of Federal University of Technology, Owerri, Imo State were seen in a viral video celebrating their final examination in their exotic cars, throwing wads of Naira notes around the streets of Owerri. Not long after that, operatives of the Benin Zonal Command of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, arrested suspected Yahoo Boys who ‘rained plenty’ of Naira notes in front of Kada Cinema in Benin-City. Their arrest followed a viral video in which the suspects were standing on top of their cars and throwing wads of Naira into the air in front of the cinema house, causing a stampede among passersby.
This is the audacity of what has, unfortunately, become part of our lives as Nigerians. It has become a menace and source of concern to both the country’s leadership and well-meaning citizens. The activities of these fraudsters have become ubiquitous and have assumed international dimensions.
The incessant arrests, prosecution and conviction of these scammers have not reduced the menace. Rather, it seems to embody more youths to join the ugly trend. This perfidy has become a way of life for many young Nigerians. The worrisome part is that teenagers-little children in secondary schools-are being recruited daily into this criminal venture.
Tertiary institutions have become breeding centres for internet criminals. Children sent to school to study are now living in hotels working as cyber fraudsters, defrauding people, driving exotic cars and living large on campus. They are not studying but ‘sorting’, bribing lecturers to pass. They only come into the campus with a convoy once in a while to show off.
Internet fraud, according to Wikipedia, is a type of cybercrime fraud or deception that makes use of the internet and could involve hiding information or providing incorrect information to trick victims out of money, property, and inheritance. Yahoo-Yahoo is the use of internet services or software with internet access to defraud victims or to otherwise take advantage of them. Internet crime schemes steal millions of dollars each year from victims and continue to plague the internet through various methods.
Internet fraud is a type of fraud that makes use of the internet. It is not a single fraud; there are numerous frauds under that. Internet fraudsters are everywhere and they come up with innovative tricks to cheat people and wipe out money from their bank accounts.
The ugly development, according to Alfred Ononugbo, a forensic expert and criminal intelligence specialist, has assumed a pandemic level. This, he said, was mainly because the internet is now easily accessible and less expensive. “One can easily access the internet using their smart phones. Not just in urban areas, there is also rapid growth of the internet in rural areas”, Ononugbo said.
“As the number of people using the internet is on the rise, internet frauds are also increasing and many people have lost their money through it.’’
Speaking on the incentive to Yahoo-Yahoo, the expert noted that Nigeria is a society where people do not account for their wealth. According to him, about 70-80 percent of the wealth of Nigerians is often traced to unverifiable sources.
He said: “It’s a serious concern. That’s why Yahoo-Yahoo is growing. Yahoo Boys are just fraudsters who are taking advantage of the vulnerability of digital space.
“In the absence of digital crimes, manual crimes which are armed robbery, kidnapping, etc, were the ones we knew but with the infotech revolution, crime has taken a new dimension.
“So, the young people have been exposed to the vulnerabilities of the digital space.
“Again, we protect criminals in Nigeria. If my brother is a criminal, I will protect him; the community will give him a chieftaincy title and name him the kindest man.
“So, with that rebranding, you will not see the criminal aspect of that man’s wealth. You will only see his generosity which is an alibi to cover up for his crimes.
“We have also an enlightened generation without an opportunity to match and our youths are exposed to unequal opportunities.
“Imagine people going to school and, after graduation, there is no job anywhere for them, which is not a justification but an incentive that encourages crime.
“The internet has exposed the world as a community. So what you see playing out on the internet is exactly a digital crime that is common with technology.
“They know people trust sites and information and there is a hunger for information. “There’s a craving for exploration, people want to see and explore new grounds.
“What does that do? People now are beginning to sell without knowing who is selling and who’s buying.
“So it provided breeding grounds for criminals. They can send misleading information and get you to pay for it, that is what internet fraud or Yahoo-Yahoo is.
“They gather people’s private information and use it to get money off their private financial records.”
Shades of internet fraud
Sunday Vanguard learned that internet fraud is organized along areas of specialization to make a success of the deviant behaviour.
Fraudsters study the security network of online transactions to decide where to pitch their tents.
Quick monetary reward is what Yahoo-Boys have in mind. They use different schemes and several high-profile methods to carry out their nefarious activities.
Phishing/spoofing is one of the popular methods of scamming. It is an act of sending an e-mail falsely claiming to be an established legitimate business in an attempt to deceive the unsuspecting recipient into divulging personal, sensitive information such as passwords, credit card numbers, and bank account information after directing the user to visit a specific website. The website, however, is not genuine and was set up only as an attempt to steal the user’s information.
Yahoo Boys are also big on ATM fraud. They may stand at ATM galleries to feign assistance to vulnerable users – illiterates, the old and the physically challenged. They later swap cards to defraud them. The fraudsters carry out their attacks mostly on weekends because banks are not opened on weekends. This means victims will be unable to ask their banks to stop illegal transactions on their accounts until Monday morning, when the banks open for business, even though they receive debit alerts over the weekend.
An online shopping fraud is one of the biggest internet frauds. Under this, fraudsters set up fake online shopping portals with the intention of cheating innocent people. On the website, they display attractive products at a very cheap rate but, after the purchase is made by paying the money, either the fake product is delivered or the product is not delivered at all.
Scareware involves the use of malicious software to damage or disable computers and computer systems. Sometimes scare tactics are used by the perpetrators to solicit funds from victims.
Other means of defrauding people via the internet include the Business E-Mail Compromise (BEC), Data Breach, E-Mail Account Compromise (EAC), Ransomware, Identity Theft, Lottery Fraud, Social Media Frauds and Matrimonial/Dating frauds.
Recently, fake bank wins and other bank transaction methods were being used to defraud unsuspecting bank customers.
Hitherto, internet fraud was carried out at public cafés. However, with regular raids on these internet cafés and the arrest of suspected fraudsters by the police, Yahoo Boys have simply moved their bases. The proliferation of internet service providers in Nigeria has made it even easier for scammers to commit internet fraud. It is now as simple as buying modems and surfing the internet within the confines of their privately rented apartments. Yahoo Boys stay in physical communes of like-minded individuals and use this network to launch internet attacks.
They share information on a particular target and find new ways of making prospective targets yield to their deceit. They can get help, share internet costs and jointly pay for fuel for generators, which are used to power their computers. For students, they go to school during the day, and social clubs in the evenings to celebrate their successes.
• Next week, Yahoo Boys narrate how they scout for victims
Vanguard News Nigeria