Internet is unarguably the most beneficial innovation to the human race. It has become our everyday resort for connecting with people and transacting from all over the world and as well, a space for sharing information. But that’s not all. It has also become the perfect breeding ground for scammers. If you’re not careful, you could lose your money, business, or even worse: your life. It is reported that annually, internet-enabled theft, fraud, and exploitation necessitate global losses exceeding $4.2 billion leading to business collapse, loss of lives, and other unpalatable aftermaths. It is that scary! In Nigeria specifically, internet scamming is a scourge that hurts people every day. However, the good news is that they won’t succeed on you if you know how to spot their tricks. And that’s exactly the essence of this article: to shed a spotlight on the clandestine schemes of internet scamming in Nigeria and how you can outsmart them, always.
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Internet Scamming in Nigeria: A panoramic glance
From Ikechukwu Anajemba and his allies that scammed a Brazilian businessman over $190million, to Ramon Olorunwa Abbas (aka Hushpuppi) who swindled approximately $922,857.76 from a law firm in New York via Business Email Comprise (BEC), to Obinwanna Okeke who defrauded a manufacturing company of over $11 million through computer intrusion and wire fraud…and thousands of other mindboggling stories, the menace of internet scamming in Nigeria is perceptibly deep-seated and endemic.
According to a report by Norton and Symantec, Nigeria is second only to India in terms of the total number of internet scams. And this does not include the massive numbers of scams that go unreported. In the same vein, the U.S Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in its 2020 Internet Crime Report (IC3) ranked Nigeria 16th among the countries most affected by internet crime in the world in 2020. Also, the Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System (NIBSS) industry fraud report for Q3 2020 indicated that in 2020, Nigeria lost ₦5b to fraud in 9 months. Earlier this year (2022), the institution affirmed that the fraud volumes and values are not going down; noting that fraud value increased from ₦5.04 billion recorded for the first nine months of 2020 to ₦7 billion in the same period of 2021—a 34% increase. These statistics are just a surface scratch.
Methods of Internet Scamming in Nigeria
Internet Scammers in Nigeria plague cyber space and perpetuate their clandestine frauds through various methods, which include:
- Business Email Compromise (BEC): This method of scamming involves the impersonation of a company executive in order to trick employees into making unauthorized transfers. BEC scammers typically use phishing emails containing links to spoofed websites that are designed to look like legitimate sites. The scammers also attempt to trick their targets into providing information that can be used to gain access to the organization’s funds through wire transfer requests or other means.
- Romance scams: This type of fraud targets people looking for companionship and want to start a relationship. These scammers create fake profiles on dating sites and social media to trick their victims into sending money or sharing personal information. The scammer’s goal is to build a relationship with their victim, often by pretending to be in love and asking the victim for money. The scammer may say they need help to pay for an emergency or get-well gift, or they may claim to be traveling abroad and want to meet the victim in person. They then disappears thereafter or continues to exploit the victim. Nigeria has been reported to be the second most notorious country in the world with romances scams, next to the Philippines according to a study conducted by Techshielder.
- Identity Theft: Identity Theft is another fastest-growing method of internet scamming in Nigeria. In this type of fraud, the scammer steals the victim’s personal information like bank account information, passwords, social security number (e.g. Passport number, NIN, or driver’s license number), credit card number, etc. Once they have such personal information, the impostor then uses it to commit fraud or other various crimes.
- Ponzi scheme: This is a pyramid scheme. It promises high returns with little risk to investors. It generates returns for older investors from the funds of new entrants. The pyramid scheme thrives as earlier subscribers who are paid huge returns spread the word and get more people to join. Once enough people sign up and pay, the scammers disappears into thin air or feigns a shabby story of business collapse.
- Advance fee fraud: Advance fee fraud is an old and common internet scam, but a lot of people still fall for it. It works by having the victim pay a “fee” to receive something that they haven’t gotten yet. Typically, it will involve a victim being told that they’ve won an award or prize for some reason or selected to claim some abandoned wealth, but in order to receive it, they’ll have to pay a fee first. The amount can vary depending on how much money the scammer wants—it could be thousands of dollars or just a few hundred. The scammer often gives excuses for why it’s necessary to pay this advance fee, such as saying that it is a security deposit to make sure that no one else can claim the winnings, or that it’s just a fee for handling all of the paperwork associated with the winnings. Once the victim has sent over the money, they never hear from the scammer again.
Their Tactics: How Internet Scammers in Nigeria prey on the victims
Based on these aforementioned mediums, there are several serpentine tricks and tactics; they deploy to perfect their nefarious game, which are:
- Website cloning and phishing: The scammers often clone official websites of government agencies and business entities and trick people into using them. Through that means, they get the victim’s personal and sensitive information which they use on the legitimate website to perform fraudulent activities.
- Malicious Hacking: Aimed with technical skills, the scammers often break into computer systems and networks to steal data or to gain unauthorized access to people’s gadgets. They perfect these with the help of malicious software such as Trojan horse, key loggers, malware, etc. They may also install a pinhole camera at an unnoticeable location of the ATM or POS to record how people type the numbers written on their ATM card and secret codes. Once it is obtained, they run unauthorized transactions on the victim’s account.
- Impersonation: Internet Scammers in Nigeria often impersonate government officials, celebrities, and corporate organizations in a bid to trick their victims. The most popular one these days are “bank representative scam”. Once they notice the Bank you use, they will call you claiming to be a representative of the bank, pretending they want you to do a mandatory account upgrade, and begin to ask you for sensitive information.
- Deception and pretense: Generally, Internet scammers are very patient, convincing, and know how to play on people’s sympathies so they can get what they want: money! Those who do romance scams spend a long period of time playing on the intelligence of their supposed online lover (victims) to believe they are real. They could even send tiny gifts from time to time. And then swindle the victim of a huge sum of money in the long run and vanish.
- Catfishing: Catfishing is the act of creating fake social media profiles to defraud people. Another notable trick of the scammers is the creation of social media accounts using the profile and image of highly respected public figures like celebrities, politicians, and business tycoons. When the account gains much followership, they then use it to advertise Ponzi schemes or directly scam people by initiating unrealistic/fake business deals or giveaway contests. Recently, Obi Cubana, a renowned business tycoon, and celerity raised alarm over multiple fake social media profiles on Twitter, which scammers are using to impersonate him and defraud people.
- Hypnotization: There is more to internet scamming in Nigeria than meets the eyes. They have gone beyond mere physical tricks to spiritual manipulations. If a potential victim does not fall or is reluctant to fall for their tricks, the scammers now resort to fetish powers. They use the personal information of potential victims to consult witch doctors and voodoo priests. Sometimes they succeed in hypnotizing their spirits. The media is rife with stories of internet scammers caught red-handed with either human parts or in the process of performing heinous rituals.
How to Avoid or Limit the Chances of Falling Victim
Given the multidimensional mediums and tactics Nigerian internet scammers deploys, there is no one-size-fits-all solution that can wholly protect one from the menace. However, keeping these tips in mind will help reduce, to the arrest minimum, the chances of being taken for a ride by the crooks:
- Do not open any attachments or links from unsolicited emails; most computer viruses that make your gadgets vulnerable to scammers are spread through attachments and links.
- Before you disclose any personal information online, make sure it’s coming from someone who you actually knows personally (and even then…still be wary).
- If you are not logging in through an app, always crosscheck the web or email URL to confirm they are genuine before logging in. As hinted earlier, scammers clone websites, emails, and social media platforms and trick people into submitting their detail which they use immediately to scam the victim on the original website. If you notice or sense you have logged into a fake URL, change your password immediately on the legitimate website and notify your service providers where necessary.
- Always enable two-factor authentication on your emails, banking platforms, and social media accounts. This extremely limits the chances of compromising your online accounts.
- As a rule of thumb, never leave your gadgets unprotected. Always install good antivirus software on your gadgets and update it frequently. Antivirus software helps to block malicious software such as Trojan horse, key loggers, malwares, etc. which hackers use to trick and steal people’s private information. In addition, it is recommended to change your password (email, banking app/ATM, social media accounts, personal gadgets, etc.) every three months.
- Always password your gadgets (Phones, Laptops, desktops, etc.). Scammers could steal them and spy on your conversations and saved documents that may contain sensitive info. When you password your gadgets, a thief will have to flash it before use, which will wipe out every user’s information in the gadget.
- Never use ATMs that are located in isolated places; a secret camera might have been installed somewhere there by scammers. And also, try as much as possible to avoid using POS machines to transact. Most of the time, POS machines in Nigeria are compromised. In fact, it is recommended not to leave a reasonable sum of money in a bank account tied to the cards you use at ATMs or POS stands.
- When entering sensitive data like credit card details into online forms on websites such as e-commerce sites (Amazon/Jumia/Shopify etc.), make sure that the website has enabled HTTPS—this means all communications between your browser and the server will occur over an encrypted connection preventing hackers from intercepting those details.
- To limit the chances of Business Email Compromise (BEC), always confirm with your superior through phone calls or physically before authorizing any transaction or sending out financial information via email.
- Do not be greedy; if it seems too good to be true, it’s most likely a scam! Whenever someone out of the blues starts telling you that you have won an award you never applied for or that have been chosen to claim some “heritage” you hitherto know nothing about; and then says you need to pay some advance fee to process it, just know it’s a scam. Ignore and delete. Same also applies to acclaimed “investment platforms” that promise bogus returns. There is no free money anywhere. They are scams.
- As much as you can, avoid dating sites. In most cases, they are riddled with scammers and insincere people. The best place to find love is never a dating site. However, if you must try your luck there, be extremely careful.
- Using “black power” on a potential victim is not a joke. Always pray to whatever you believe in for protection. Nevertheless, whenever you found yourself doing some weird or stupid things that you can never do with your normal eyes, cry out for help as soon as possible. It might be you are being hypnotized.
- Be wary of fake social media accounts. Most celebrities and organizations have verified social media accounts. And they are mostly not on every social media platform. So, before initiating any transaction, do some underground checks. Or better still, ask any social media savvy person around you. Nonetheless, a verified account could be hacked. So, even when it is a verified account, always watch out for giveaways, investments, or advertisements that seem illogical or stupid. Last year, Twitter accounts of popular personalities across the world, including that of Bill Gate, were hacked and a lot of people fell victim to a “giveaway contest” that seemed obviously fishy.
- Last but not the least, always watch scam bait documentaries. Some big YouTube channels are dedicated to exposing scammers. They appear as a novice or a potential victim to internet scammers and play along while documenting the process. They, thereafter, expose the scammers. The documentaries are very educative because it acquaints the viewers with the latest tactics of internet scammers. Interestingly, or perhaps, unfortunately, over 50% percent of scammers exposed in the documentaries are always from Nigeria and India. So, they are good mediums to get educated about the tricks of Nigerian internet scammers. Some of the best channels in this niche are Trilogy Media, ScamBaiter, and Jim Browning.
The pains of internet scam are better read or heard than experienced. A lot of people have lost their entire savings, businesses, jobs, and life. Even as you read this, somebody somewhere is on the verge of being a scammed. The best time you could have implemented these tips was yesterday. Another best time