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EDITORIAL: Internet fraud and impact on legitimate tech workers in Nigeria

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The trend of news coming out from the Nigeria Law Enforcement agents, especially the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) shows we have very serious issues at hand with regards internet frauds.

Internet fraud must not be handled with kids groove. A situation where the suspects are usually between the age of 17 and 33 shows a nation in dilemma. Recall that 60% of the country’s population is made up of young people.

According to a March 2018 report by cyber intelligence company, Crowdstrike, titled ‘Nigerian Confraternities Emerge as Business Email Compromise Threat’ internet fraudsters are run by organised crime syndicates.

The report notes that behind the fraudsters is an organised crime network with its hands in human trafficking, drugs, prostitution, money laundering and cybercrime.

Truly, these fraudsters created serious image problem for the country as ‘Internet Scam Hotbed’.

Conversations with career yahoo boys reveal that this hustle is in no way slowing down as the CrowdStrike report even revealed that it was commonplace for the fraudsters to have officers of some crime-fighting outfits on their payroll.

Here is how another yahoo boy, who also requested anonymity, described it in the report published by PremiumTimes: “You receive the money using accounts. To receive money from overseas, you need accounts to move it around and there are middlemen whose only contribution to a scam operation is providing accounts. Many are in China so when they receive money, they buy goods and export to Nigeria.”

But what if you want to move the money into Nigeria, surely there are flags within the banking system, he was asked. He confessed that of an instance when a huge sum of money was moved.

“If you want to bring in N400 million, you have to use state agents, the uniforms, bank managers etc, it is a network of people.

“Liberality is part of how you survive because if you are using state agents, then you have to be prepared to pay. Heavily too. So you find a judge of the jurisdiction where your money is coming into and give him N50 million, you give the financial uniforms N20 million, (you) budget N20 million for whoever else may have a problem and you keep N300 million. So how can you be flagged by a bank if you have paid millions not to be flagged?”

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If you read in-between the lines, the real problem here is the human factor: corrupt people at the banks themselves and in the institutions supposed to stop illicit money flows.

The Yahoo Boys even say they have option of using the Lebanese community in Nigeria to launder the ‘yahoo money’. This was a confession by one Martins Obidike, a former hacker and now a post-graduate student at the University of Nigeria, Enugu campus.

Thus, the rise in the participation of internet fraud by the youths of the country is not ignorable neither is it without consequence on the criminals or in the nation’s image and purse.

On the other hand, could there possible, unintentional ways the Nigerian law enforcement authorities are supporting this growth in crime rate?

Let’s look at this possibility in a few minutes:

Imagine this

It is painful that legitimate tech workers in Nigeria bear the brunt of the country’s reputation for online fraud.

Stories of visas being denied are common. Some of these legitimate tech workers are hounded, extorted and sometimes arrested by police for ‘looking like yahoo boys’.

developers

Here is a developer with a deadline to meet; the client is on his neck to deliver. This young man is denied stable electricity at home, and he decides to take the work tools; a Macbook, smartphone(s) and the internet modem – to elsewhere in search of solution.

He hurries to a point, probably an eatery, co-working space, where he hopes to have power to work, and thinking of the best way to get the job done, the best way to solve that challenge so the client will be satisfied. The client is not even within Nigerian, he (the client) is not concerned with ‘the Disco disconnected our power source or power has not been restored to our area after the last heavy rain’.

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You don’t want to think about the stress you went through to gain the trust of this client; you don’t want to think about the hesitation you felt on their part when they found out you were Nigerian, you just want to do an excellent job and show that you are worth the trial. You just want to beat the deadline with a great job. You need this to be a long-time engagement with this client. You need the money.

As this young man walks by, his mind on the unfinished work on the laptop, a voice across the other side of the street calls: “Stop there!”

First, you freeze.

Before you can say Jack, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) are already ransacking your MacBook; the ‘Officer’ looks at you with suspicion, your emails both those inboxes and deleted are scrutinized, your ID Card and other Valid proof of Identification is ignored, you are rough handled and threatened with guns. Any phone number or transaction which looks international is considered additional evidence to a crime you are not sure of.

You are distraught. You are angry but you don’t dare to show your displeasure as you are not the one with the gun and the badge. Your project with a speeding deadline awaits you, but you are under custody and your only crime is that you were with a laptop; a MacBook makes the ‘crime’ more serious, and that you ‘looked good’.

Maybe you lose the client as you failed to deliver; productivity nosedives. You may be lucky to have the sympathy of the client, but you feel unsafe. You wonder what your other options are.

The above narration was inspired by this sad account on Facebook.

Internet Fraud

Chain Reactions

The need for a check on the activities of young people in Nigeria cannot be overemphasized but here is what could happen when these checks are done wrongly;

First, we feel that productivity of hard working innocents is affected. The freelancer’s office is his gadgets. He takes his office anywhere which proves conducive enough to promote productivity.

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It is bad enough that he battles with power and has to travel to a place where power is stable so he can get the work done. It is bad enough that he has to be suspected as a criminal by the client just because he is Nigerian. It is bad enough that he has to target foreign clients because the local clients see his craft as something anyone can do and so bargains with him for a price which is shameful to mention.

These are bad enough, but harassment by the law officers, just because he is trying to make an honest living, trumps them all.

Secondly, discouragement sets in. If the freelancer cannot work and walk freely, it has a chain reaction effect; he most likely loses the contract as there are so many things against his productivity. He wonders if the struggle is worth it.

Thirdly, he might get ideas. The active mind likes a challenge and tries to beat levels. The mind of the young person aims to beat you at your game. The young person sees that his financial state is in ruins, he can’t get a job from the government nor private companies, and his freelancing career is frustrated by some people with guns. So, his mind might think of a way to beat the system. The mind takes the challenge of not getting caught too.

This third possibility obviously leads to the very situation the law enforcers were trying to curb in the first place.

Solutions

There are a few problems without solutions and this productivity-reducing problem, of false suspicion, false accusation and harassment is not one of them.

There are practical ways the law enforcement agents can do their job better without hurting the legitimate tech workers. There is always a better way to achieve goals and aims, just like technological innovations, and just like every genius invention, it starts from the mind.

It is important that these law enforcers realize, agree and remind themselves that there are honest, hardworking, young people going about with laptops, even MacBooks. There is no need to conclude on one’s lack of innocence just because they think so. That is not professional.

The law says the person is innocent until proven guilty, but these law enforcers show that they believe that one is guilty until proven innocent.

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Finally, there is no need to harass people just because you have guns and a badge. That is an abuse of power.

The young people are the future of every clime, Nigeria included. Threatening their existence, growth and development, and creating an environment not enabling for their progress, just shows what those in power think about the future of the country. While the world prepares and works towards technological innovative inventions which will rock earth to its core and shoot it to the stars, the Nigerian law enforcers can do more than push her young to crime or restrict their growth.

Yes, they can.

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@TechEconomyNG connects past-present-emerging technological impacts on Businesses, People and Cities. All Correspondence to: [email protected]

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