Cyber criminals, also known as ‘yahoo-yahoo boys’ are gradually becoming ‘dignified’ persons in Nigeria. The conmen are quietly becoming role models for Nigerian youngsters, who admire their guts to steal and get rich. Worse still is that many Nigerian parents now advise their children to go into yahoo-yahoo apprenticeship with the intention of making it big in near future. CHIJIOKE IREMEKA reports that it’s more worrisome when they are being rewarded with awards in the society
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Cybercrime, socially tagged Yahoo- Yahoo, is largely perpetrated by young people of explosive ages, especially unemployed graduates, undergraduates and secondary school students. It seems to receive the status of ‘dignified’ job in a country where the government has not sufficiently contained the perpetrators. While those involved in the crime or this act of phishing, are, in a social context, referred to as yahoo boys or G-boys, phishing is punishable under the Article 419 of the Nigerian Criminal Code, part of Chapter 38, which deals with fraud, hence, Nigerians also sobriquet the fraud as 419.
Nigeria Criminal Code, Section 419, which criminalises the act of phishing states: “Any person who by any false pretense, and with intent to defraud, obtain from any other person anything capable of being stolen, or induce any other person to deliver to any person anything capable of being stolen, is guilty of a felony, and is liable to imprisonment for…”
By the way, phishing is a cybercrime in which a target(s) are contacted by email, telephone or text message by someone posing as a legitimate institution to lure individuals into providing sensitive data such as personally identifiable information, banking and credit card details, and passwords.
It can also be viewed as a fraudulent attempt to obtain sensitive information or data, such as usernames, passwords, credit card numbers, or other sensitive details by impersonating its owner in a digital communication.
The phenomenon is on the increase in Nigerian, largely due to young people’s quest for quick and easy money, the ever-rising unemployment rates among youths, especially graduates now put at 33 per cent, as well as limited government ability to arrest and prosecute the offenders. Yahoo-yahoo got its name from the operability (operational choice) of the conmen involved in the crime. Most of their operations are done by sending unsolicited emails and faxes to their targets via yahoo mailbox.
This operational choice of using yahoo mailbox to communicate and defraud their targets was what nicknamed the crime as ‘Yahoo-yahoo’ and fraudsters involved as Yahoo boys or girls.
‘Yahoo-yahoo’ is an organised cross- border crime, perpetuated with the help of other core professionals. It’s an institution of its own where intending tricksters are trained, taught and get apprenticeship in cybercrime.
Their networks revolve around banks, security agencies, co-fraudsters and, sometimes, families. Internet fraud is well thought-out along areas of specialisation to make a success of the deviant behaviour. ‘Yahoo boys’ study the security network of online transactions to decide where to pitch their tents with quick monetary reward in mind.
Sunday Telegraph learnt that they use different schemes. Sending fraudulent messages to online dating websites and social network sites were reported to be low-risk but high-profit areas of specialisation. In their social flowery slang, when ‘magga pays,’ meaning when one falls victim to their phishing, getting their money is made easy as they have their accomplices in the banks, which is the commonest means of collecting fraud money in Nigeria. Such banks often employ casual labour in financially vulnerable positions.
According to an ex-banker, who was relieved of his job when he almost lost his life in a robbery attack at Onitsha, Anambra State, Mr. Samuel Nulu, once the fraudster has an internal collaborator, the job is said to be 90 per cent done.
He noted that phishing on dating sites is also very fashionable, with some students creating credible profiles of themselves to extract sensitive information, adding that some bankers are into internet fraud. He said the proceeds of their fraudulent activities in Nigeria is collected through the banks, through Western Union money transfer and MoneyGram with the assistance of compromised staff as the fraudsters use fake identities.
Corroborating him, a lecturer of Criminology, Deviance and Social Problems, University of Ibadan, Oludayo Tade, said for a successful execution of such fraud, an insider within the bank is pivotal.
“The banker facilitates payment without attracting the attention of security agencies. They also get their share of the loot. The instability in the Nigerian banking sector may have created an uncommitted workforce. Working in an insecure establishment makes workers vulnerable,” he said.
“A large number of casual workers are deployed to man key positions in the banks,” he continued, “and this makes way for criminal activities and opportunities. The yahooboys, therefore, find easy allies in banking staff, who are mostly youths too because of their socioeconomic nightmare.
“The ‘yahoo boys’ are worshipped in the society and their extravagant lifestyle has a way of attracting young boys to them. They are admired but fear of unemployment has been identified as a push-factor for undergraduates’ involvement in Internet fraud and with this, they become mentors and role models to a number of feeble minded people.”
Sunday Telegraph learnt that they get invitations to churches and communities’ fundraising events, where they are well spoken of, despising many others who ply other forms of legitimate businesses, and who, perhaps, do not have as much wealth as the ‘yahoo boys’ to display.
It was learnt also that due to their (G-boys) perceived superior purchasing power and ability to part with any amount to buy what they want, many businessmen and women prefer to sell their wares to them with the sole aim of making more gains and with this, they intimidate those with weaker purchasing power.
“Though I do not know the difference between a ‘yahoo boys’ and other customers, I will like to sell my goods to the highest bidder because I do business to make profit. If the ‘yahoo boys’ will buy without bargaining, then I will sell to them than other people who will like to price it the way vulture prices the dead body,” said Chimobi Adichie, who sells at Nkwo Ogidi Market, Ogidi, Anambra State.
The intimidation doesn’t just stop there. They also take it to the Holy Sanctuaries of God-the church, where they act regardless of the church’s holy protocols, or observe the simple ordinances in the church as they feel nobody can question their activities since they are the major financiers in the church. On a number of occasions,
Sunday Telegraph observed some of them with their dreadlocks, weird hairdos, walking into one of the Catholic churches in Ikeja, while prayers were being offered to God by the priests, breaking all protocols which the Catholic faithful regards as sacrilegious.
“Unfortunately, these people are well protected in the country by the law and its agents because they use their fraud money to secure and sustain the services of security operatives and the judiciary,” said a police officer, who wouldn’t want his name on print.
He said: “In an event they are mistakenly arrested, they are out of the police’s net immediately with the help of their networks of friends in low and high places. Majority of them, who got elevated through this dubious means, are in one high place or the other in the country. They also reinvest the proceeds of their action in a legitimate business as a cover up.”
Despite the fact that the Section 419 of Nigerian cybercrime law states that internet scamming is a felony, the section has not deterred Dagogo Preye, who said the law enforcement officers are also ‘hustling,’ and will only arrest those they do not know or those who have not shown them ‘love.’ He wondered the sense in arresting him, arguing that even the most upright police officer cannot return the money to an already scammed person, hence the notion that arresting one individual ‘yahoo boy’ would make a dent in the industry and minimise the number of victims does not seem clear to him. “I am not scared of anybody. I cover my tracks well but if there is a problem, I know what to do.
Drug pushing is prohibited in the country but there are not many people carrying drugs.
They have their cabals and we have our own. Get the money first; every other thing will fall in the right places. With money, you can do almost everything,” he added. To make the case worse, some of these successful fraudsters are traditional rulers in their respective communities, even as others, who also served their bosses or have one link or the other to them, are also occupying certain state government’s houses as governors.
According to Principal Partner, Emeka Ndukwe & Co., Barrister Emeka Ndukwe, one major factor indirectly legitimising this crime like no other is a plea bargain kind of settlement with the court, where an arraigned fraudster will plead guilty to charges against him with a sole aim of extenuation of the punishment meted out for such offence.
He said this arrangement will result in the accused forfeiting certain property or money involved in order to regain his freedom after a fragile punishment has been given and this has a way of giving them soft-landing while they live on the host of others not forfeited.
Sequel to this legal implication, people now prefer to steal big, so that in an event of being caught, they would go to court, plead guilty and enter into a plea bargain arrangement.
They return a certain percentage, and live on the host of others. Some of them have been tried for many years, yet no justice in sight. Recall that Nwude, and his group allegedly defrauded and collapsed a Brazilian bank, Banco Noroeste, based in Sao Paulo, after convincing the bank to invest in an imaginary airport to the tune of $242 million.
While $191 million out of the $242 million was paid in cash, the remainder was in the form of outstanding interest, between 1995 and 1998 in exchange for a $10 million commission.
The fraud involved the bank’s Director, Nelson Sakaguchi. Nwude, who impersonated the then Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Paul Ogwuma; Emmanuel Ofolue; Nzeribe Okoli; and Obum Osakwe, alongside the husband and wife, the late Christian Ikechukwu Anajemba and Amaka Anajemba. Christian was later assassinated.
Thus, after Nick Leeson’s trading losses at Barings Bank, and the looting of the Iraqi Central Bank by Qusay Hussein, the Nwude’s crime was the third largest in banking history. Nwude was later arrested for murder and released after a large-scale attack on a town in Nigeria in August 2016, which he was fingered as a ringleader but was later released. Consequently, due to the inability of the state actors to arrest and adequately try them and bring these cybercriminals to book, ‘yahoo boys’ are now becoming a source of inspiration and role models to children. “Good morals have gone.
Gone are the days of little beginning. No child wants to start from the scratch; they want it big from their mother’s womb and that explains why you find ‘yahoo boys’ among secondary school students,” said a father of four and a social worker in his mid-fifties, Chigbogu Mbachu.
He said, “Many people, including parents now use criminals as a yardstick for success and urge their children to follow suit irrespective of the source of their wealth. “We have failed our generation and it’s unfortunate that this is what we have become. Almost every Nigerian has criminal inclinations and the majority of the young people said the politicians and others in government offices are more criminal than them seeking ways to survive in the country.
“They said if the politicians can steal with biros and nobody prosecutes them, then they scam everybody with their brain. It’s unfortunate. We have criminals as fathers and mothers, who teach criminality to their children.
This is our problem and it’s not getting any better as a number of people are embracing Internet fraud.” Mr. Wilson Etuk, in his mid-thirties has the belief that the ‘yahoosters’ are only trying to recover what the whitemen stole from their forefathers many years ago during colonialism and slave trade. “Oyibo must pay for what they did to Africans and Nigerians especially.
White men must pay’ has then a slogan among the fraudsters. Some of the fraudsters see it as a game of who is smarter than the other. It is a show of how intelligent one is to break the brain of the Whiteman. So, it’s a game,” he said. Speaking on the push factors for the young people’s enlisting into this cybercrime irrespective of the world campaign against it and its consequences, an undergraduate student of Lagos State University, Tunji Adejumo, said the fear of future unemployment forced them into yahoo-yahoo club.
He said: “The fear of the unknown has attracted a number of students to yahoo-yahoo rather than waiting for after-school unemployment. Internet fraud as a creative outlet in a country like Nigeria where there is no hope of employment after school.”
He added that yahoo-yahoo is convenient when combined with any legitimate business, arguing that most successful cybercriminals combined the business with another trade for convenience sake and cover up. Recently, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) indicted 80 people for what it described as ‘the largest case of online fraud in U.S. history.’ Seventy-seven of them were Nigerians. It also indicted Obinwanne Okeke for computer and wire fraud. Obinwanne was accused of defrauding a subsidiary of Caterpillar of $11 million.
He was the head of Invictus Group, with interests in Nigeria, South Africa and Zambia. Forbes magazine named him as one of its top African entrepreneurs under 30 in 2016. But for Amadi A. Amadi (name changed to protect the identity of the student), he started his yahoo-yahoo business in his first year in the university as an impostor via numerous online dating sites, looking for the profile of foreign based targets and those living in rich estates in the country to defraud. He specialises in selling romance.
Today, he’s a graduate and he has this to say: “I started online fraud in my second semester of 100 Level as an impostor via online dating. Then, I used to look for the professional profiles of people living in developed countries of the world. I take a close look at the people who live in places like Port Harcourt, Abuja and other luxury suburbs in the country. “I usually posed to them as a big man, who needed a wife.
Sometimes, I posed to them on how my wife disappointed me and took away my property and children. I polished this in a pitiable way with some pictures to convince them when I’m chatting with them.
“Western world women are mainly the victims because they believe in ‘online business transactions as against their Nigerian counterparts, who would doubt such complicated business deals online. However, they can also be duped.
“It’s possible to create fake profiles that convince even the very sceptical Nigerian. You tell your victim, for example a middle class woman, that you live in Abuja. You do not use your own picture; you find a handsome man’s picture to use. You keep chatting with her. After a while, you tell her that business will take you to the US but you will keep in touch from there.
“Before your make belief trip, you send her a phone – a higher version of her present one. It convinces her that something real has happened. At this point, you introduce her to your perceived mother, who will speak with her on the phone from time to time.
“This is done with the help of a Techno phone that has a voice changer. The voice of an elderly woman will tell her she can’t wait to meet her; that God will bless her union with her son, etcetera. She will encourage the relationship and promise marriage. “The next phase is to call the victim ‘from abroad.’ There is a guy who also lives here in Nigeria, who codes the phone call so it appears to be originating from wherever you told her you were going.
“Once convinced that you are really in the United States, she will be told that your mother has fallen ill and urgently needs N350, 000 for a surgery, that you will send your ‘younger brother’ to her to explain everything and get the money. “Of course, it is not your brother who goes.
You are going yourself. The face-toface serves, besides to reassure the victim that the money will be repaid as soon as you are ‘back’ from America, also will make you know how much you will drill off of her eventually.” If you’re selling romance, he says, “Ensure you are far away and there is no chance of you and your -middle-aged, lonely, femaleclient actually ever meeting.
He was last paid by a woman living in Poland; he has friends currently receiving funds from ‘clients’ in Lithuania and Malaysia.” For Skinn Anchor, his operational name, he transmits misleading information online for people to send their bank accounts details.
According to him, ‘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 – and later swap cards to defraud them.
“The fraudsters carry out their attacks mostly on weekends and mostly outside the state where the account is domiciled. Banks are mostly non-functional 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, though they receive debit alerts over the weekend.
The methods used include ‘ase’ or ‘mayehun’ (incontrovertible order), charmed or magical rings (oruka-ere) and incisions made around the wrist, which are used to surf the net, while ijapa (tortoise) is used to navigate profitable sites. Unsuspecting victims fall under the spell of the ase via phone conversation where spiritual orders
Meanwhile, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), has descended on yahoo boys, arresting thousands of them in the last few years. Between March and April 2021, EFCC arrested over 200 internet fraudsters in Kaduna, Kano, Oyo, Ondo and Ogun states, most of who were students.
The Ibadan Zonal Office of EFCC, alone secured the conviction of six internet fraudsters in Abeokuta, Ogun State and Ibadan in March this year.