Abiola Ogunleye, Omolabake Abudu-Bhadmus and Faith Ojo
In September last year, the University of Lagos signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) which signified the University’s disapproval of a certain ‘hustle’ that has now become a terror to many folks around the world – cyber fraud.
In the early 2000’s, the criminal and rascally acts many parents and young persons alike were familiar with ranged from petty stealing, prostitution, cultism, rape and the likes. So a child upon gaining admission would be advised against getting involved in these acts as he or she got the age long admonition, “Do not forget the child of whom you are.”
There is a new scare today though. “Yahoo-yahoo”, “Yahoo plus”, “maga and mugun”, “client work”, “sinzu money”, “format” or whatever you call it all describe the same thing. This growing menace of cyber crimes such as internet frauds, phishing, hacking, spamming, extortion and the likes among today’s youths is nothing but appalling.
The rising growth of online scam
As technology advances and more people rely on computer devices for ease in their daily interaction and activities, certain individuals have seen this as an opportunity to cheat and rob people virtually thereby making internet users vulnerable and unsafe around the world,specifically in Nigeria.
These rascals, infamously known as “Yahoo boys” have become a household name known both online and offline with a fast rising trend becoming popular among more and more youths. Recall certain videos that circulated online about some young kids who had already begun to nurse the ambition of becoming Yahoo boys when they grow up.
One wonders though whether only boys are involved in the profession as there no well known “Yahoo girls” but rather “Yahoo” girlfriends. These are the more popular known young ladies who are beneficiaries of the funds illegally gathered from scamming people of their hard earned money through virtual means.
Though more popular with the younger population, adults are not left out of the craze. There also was a stir online last year with a presumed “Association of mothers of Yahoo boys”. The ‘profession’ has presumably become accepted and is almost deemed normal for young persons to be involved in some form of online scam or the other.
It’s almost normal to be connected with a ‘G-boy’ with some even easily attaining online celebrity status like the now apprehended Ramon Abbas better known as Hushpuppi who carted away a total of 24 million dollars from unsuspecting victims. Another apprehended online fraudster, Invictus Obi reportedly made away with a sum of 11 million dollars . It is even commonplace to see trending videos and pictures of neighbourhood Yahoo guys turned celebrities sharing their lavish lifestyles with beneficiaries on Whatsapp and Instagram stories.
Factors responsible for the trend
So one asks, how did this trend gain rise? Many cultures worldwide frown upon stealing and fraud so it is a wonder how cyber fraud has gained a seeming favourable status by everyone. More especially in Nigeria where culture and religion is an important part of our life and being.
If you ask many today, their major reason is the economic situation of the country. With fewer and fewer jobs out there and lesser opportunities for the teeming youth population, folks have resorted to creating their own jobs. The unstable economy doesn’t support small scale businesses and in no time, for lack of patience with existing bills at hand, many opt for the easier way.
The most alarming yet, is the twisted form of entitlement tagged; ‘we are taking back what was stolen from our forefathers.’ While online fraud seems a fancy professional term for stealing, the fact that the losing party is most of the time, a foreigner also softens the guilt for a few. Whites and non-Nigerians are perceived to have a better life and can afford to part with some change, whether of their own hard-earned money or not. Funny mentality, isn’t it?
A general factor applicable to all these youths is the depraved societal value system of this age. Money is deemed important as a status symbol just as affluence and unnecessarily display of wealth. Many young folks are encouraged by the flashy lives they see their celebrities and age mates live online and want to make their own marks quick and easy too.
Peer influence is also a high factor contributing to the growth of the business in Nigeria. One we spoke to under conditions of anonymity shared how he entered into the business. Coming from a family where he was the only male child shaped him to bear responsibility from an early age and getting into higher institution provided a platform to meet with hostel mates who were already grounded in the profession. In no time, seeing the amounts they raked in convinced him to pick up interest and start out.
The society as previously noted doesn’t take it easy on struggling youths. From a young age, children are now compared with their rich peers irrespective of the source of the riches. The high expectations from parents, family and friends have encouraged many to quit low paying jobs and join the “omo olope” gang eventually leaving only those with a strong will power and moral conscience to continue endlessly in hopes that things get better.
Imagine a situation where a fifteen year old boy is feeling inferior to his age mate from a similar background counting money in dollars. In pursue of quick wealth and the “soft life”, the mentality has changed from questioning the source of the money but rather the prestige that comes with the money.
Other factors are harsh economic conditions, pursue of quick wealth, in other words ‘soft life.’ The most alarming yet, is the twisted form of entitlement tagged: ‘we are taking back what was stolen from our forefathers.’ We could continue to state the problems, however there is a way forward.
So how exactly does this work?
A young person (not in all cases) gets an internet accessible device often a laptop or a smartphone with relatively strong Internet connection and gets on a platform where he or she can interface with unsuspecting victims to rob them of their money. The need to be on such platforms mostly aided by the social media now such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Email and Yahoo gave rise to the “Yahoo-Yahoo” tag.
Various tactics come into play in cyber fraud. In every form of art there will surely be a behaviour, rules guarding it. But in the case of Cyber fraud tactics, update are word used in interactions among victims meaning that there is always a new format to the job.
Some of the tagged tactics are; sending of flower to (white) clients who stays abroad even to win their heart and to gain access into their life’s in disguise for their fraudulent act.This is not limited to one perpetrator only but to other guys who engage his act abroad that helps in the delivery process.
Another method is through the dating app ‘hang out’, many tries to take on a fake gender identity in order to scam and to rob the opposite sex of their money and even to extent of gaining access to their mails and access to their automated teller card ATM CARD pin.
Before time gift card has come into the picture where yahoo boys demands for gift cards as a form of fake transaction placed in front the tagged “mugu” which has elicited many reactions online when we see videos of people been ripped of their money.
To protect themselves from prying and suspecting eyes, some have a form of legal business that serves as a front while the major funds responsible for the lavish lifestyle comes from their fraudulent escapades online.
The number of young Nigerians who have access to internet enabled devices have grown drastically over the past few years. While this is a good development, it has given more rise to cyber fraud even amidst the lowest level computer literates.
‘Yahoo boys’ as they are popularly known, have taken over the cyberspace comfortably robbing people of their hard earned money, employing deceit and other dishonest methods in their practice. From sending pretense emails acting as reputable companies to get unsuspecting victims to reveal their personal information, (technically referred to as phishing), to sending fake links and deceitful messages to people. In Nigeria and around the world, billions of active users are registered on various platforms, providing millions of victims to cyber crimes.
To say ‘Yahoo-yahoo’ is not a lucrative business could not be further from the truth. These folks earn in millions per month as your monthly income is mainly based on the amount of effort that one puts in. That is why it is normal for them to be awake at night, online chasing contacts for a long time, even years to land huge prospects. Some have even gone as far as adding occultic means to enhance their chances of success.
Irrespective of all of these, it would be unwise to turn a blind eye to these activities as there are better ways to earn from the internet.
In a well organized state, there are punishments attached to every crime. For example, the minimum punishment for the advance fee fraud or other related act is 7 years and maximum of 20 years imprisonment. Under the cyber crime Act 2015 in Nigeria, hackers, if found guilty, of unlawfully accessing a computer system or network , are liable to a fine of up to 10 million naira or a term of imprisonment of 5 years (depending on the purpose of the hack).
Besides, there are consequences in the long run. Legally, the cyber crimes (prohibition and prevention) Act, 2015 projects that ‘hackers if found guilty of unlawfully accessing a computer system or network, are liable to a fine of up to 10 million naira or, a term of five years.’
The undercover occultic engagements also have ill consequences on them. Cult engagements that have been formed in the course of the business are often difficult to get out of. Members are thus subjected to a lifetime of pressures and absence of peace.
It is important to add that the perpetrators of internet fraud are not the only ones to suffer the consequences, even the nation at large is at risk. The reputation of the country is bashed and there is a breach of trust hindering the free flow of commercial activities among other countries. Many western countries have moved to deny Nigerians seeking greener pastures abroad visas due to the infamous reputation the country has gained through them.
What UNILAG and EFCC is doing to combat the issue
The University of Lagos signed a MOU with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission last year agreeing to work together to tackle this menace in the school.
The EFCC zonal commander, Ahmed Ghali represented by his deputy, Emeka Okonjo in a meeting with the Vice Chancellor, said, “We believe that the university environment is a training ground for youths, both academically and morally. It is therefore imperative that we join hands in the fight against the infamous yahoo-yahoo.”
Also demonstrating his support, Prof. Ogundipe acknowledged that many students get into school innocently but are soon engraved into the business. He assured the Commission that the school would partner with her to allow the EFCC speak to the issues.
There is therefore a need to sensitize both the victims of cyber crimes and the perpetrators. Law enforcement agencies should properly address such issues with the right measures. Platforms should be created to educate people on how to protect their personal information and not fall victim. Ignorance should be completely out of the picture and working hand in hand will enhance safe keeping .
On that note, use strong passwords. Ensure that personal information is not carelessly shared and your financial details are protected. Enable two step verification as well as other special aid and encryption. The problem of loose security on devices and applications should as well be fixed to make the cyberspace safer for its users. People should as well follow the many instances that has been made and introduced to ensure protection from cyber crimes.
Society has to understand that the effects of cyber fraud that result from the pressures and modern money-based value system will in turn have negative effects on them. The more we encourage lavish lifestyles without questioning the source, the more we should expect greater crimes and fraudulent activities among us.
Cyber fraud has become a dent to the youth population, the nation and the society in general with everyone having their part to play. In the words of the deputy zonal commandant of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC), Emeka Okonjo, “It is therefore imperative that we join hands in the fight against the infamous yahoo-yahoo.”