How EFCC can effectively tackle online scam (419)

By Afam Nnaji on February, 12 2009

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No verifiable statistics to back up claims made by foreign agencies and no effort made to gather and analyze data based on facts.

Otherwise, why would Nigeria and Nigerians be targeted as if majority of the online scams come from Nigerians and the EFCC cannot correct such position? Defending or promoting ideas or positions of Western agencies or nations sometimes to the detriment of Nigeria and Nigerians is wrong and must be stopped immediately.

Good enough the Ministry of Information is embarking on Rebranding Nigeria Project, maybe this is a good time for the EFCC to evaluate its position on online scam as it relates to Nigeria and Nigerians. I wish to state here that I have met dedicated Nigerians working in the EFCC who in my opinion know what the problems are and are ready to make sacrifices for this country but unfortunately cannot do much as long as EFCC continues to do what the Western agencies and nations wants it to do.

If there is one thing that has damaged the image of Nigeria worldwide it is the issue of online scams and the very wrong notion that online scam is synonymous with Nigeria. Online scam refers to any scam that is planned, aided by, assisted by, carried out using a computer or network of computers that are connected to the internet. What percentage of Nigerians have access to the internet? What is the internet penetration in Africa not just Nigeria when compared to Asian countries or the West? What is the yardstick used to justify this erroneous position that online scams begin and end with Nigeria and Nigerians.

Even before the internet became common in Nigeria there have been online scams perpetrated by many non Nigerians taking different forms. We have lived with these online scams that tend to target millions of people using mass emails that were either harvested or paid for offering prizes for non existent contests, winnings for non existent competitions, product or gadget offers, all expenses paid holiday trips etc. What is common in all these online scams is the amount of money involved.

The scammers usually ask for small amounts of money that potential victims would effortlessly part with and in almost all the cases once you part with your money you cannot trace or hold anyone responsible that is if you are not unlucky to have also parted with your credit card information that would be used to launch other online scams.

So, what is the noise about Nigerians being seen as online scammers by even nations that have their citizens sleeping and waking up on online scams? No doubt, Nigerians are involved in online scams but the percentage is very small when compared to what has been happening in the past and what is still happening today in the cyber world. Most online scams being perpetrated by Nigeria don’t focus on millions of potential victims (even though mass mailing is used) with small transaction costs like $10.00 or $35.00.

They focus on extremely greedy people who are usually attracted to the prospect of making millions of dollars (fraudulently I must add) by just becoming active collaborators or willing partners in the economic crime against Nigeria.

For over 5 years now I have made it clear that most online scam victims (especially the 419 type) are greedy, lazy and stupid and this position has been defended even on forums dedicated to tackling 419 scam by foreigners who see nothing wrong in the active collaboration (with hope of striking big money) but see everything wrong in Nigerians that stop communicating with them when they have collected enough processing fees or when they have run out of ideas on how to sustain the scam. Now, as to the problems facing the EFCC in the fight against online scams as it affects Nigerians.

Can you put a stop to prostitution as long as men (who are willing participants) continue to patronize prostitutes without any consequences? NO. Likewise, can the EFCC effectively tackle online scams in Nigeria as long as it tends to protect the foreign collaborators (who in my opinion are actively involved in economic crimes against Nigeria) while focusing on Nigerians? NO. What does it take to initiate an online scam?

A computer that is connected to the internet, one or more email addresses and any crazy business proposal that promises maximum returns with very minimal effort especially in terms of processing fees.

These are common variants: Become a beneficiary for some forgotten millions of dollars somewhere in a bank, become a beneficiary for millions of dollars belonging to a dead guy (with links to actual plane crashes), buy crude oil for $10.00 per barrel (even though everyone knows the prevailing international crude oil price), take 40% of say $260M by providing your bank account for the transfer. Why on earth would a reasonable and honest person want to make money from a fraudulent business transaction and yet have the audacity to turn around to insult Nigeria and Nigerians when the promises don’t materialize?

Way forward for the EFCC if it really wants to make an impact in this fight

1. Insist on prosecuting online scammers along with their foreign collaborators. This will more than anything else scare a lot of foreigners away.

2. Seek for an increase in the jail term for online scam convicts, the longer the jail term the better

3. Seek for and secure the right to shut down Nigerian owned fraudulent websites regardless of location.

4. Collect, collate, analyze and make available statistics (even going down 10 years ago) that clearly shows the distribution of online scams based on nationalities of perpetrators, originating countries (server locations), email addresses (domain owners) etc Put differently, there is an urgent need for a change or an update in the Legislation guiding the operations of EFCC as it concerns online scams.

There is a very important need to define the collaborator as a guilty partner in the online scam and not as a victim because truth be told almost all the so called victims are far from victims in these online scams. I have heard and I know that the EFCC believes that the reason for focusing on Nigerians is the INTENT. Granted, it is ok to consider the intent but certainly not enough considering the fact that one person cannot commit 419.

It takes a minimum of 2 people, the originator (with the intent) and the collaborator (active business partner hoping to benefit from the scam). While we are still on INTENT let me point out 2 major areas where INTENT is ignored by the Nigeria Police when it comes to tackling crimes in Nigeria (this I hope will help us understand why the EFCC is acting out a script written by the Western agencies and nations).

1. Both the giver and receiver of stolen goods are considered culpable in Nigeria. This is enforced by the Nigeria Police and is working well

2. The giver and receiver of bribes are considered guilty. This is also the position of the police and I do not have a problem with this as it takes two to tango.

Nigerians, we need to demand from the EFCC a workable approach in tackling online scams especially the 419 brand that has done a lot of damage to Nigerians. Innocent Nigerians are first seen as criminals, searched as if they are aliens from other planets and discriminated against by non Nigerians especially in foreign nations.

We cannot justify the actions of the corrupt few as we hope that the EFCC would hold them accountable for their actions but we cannot be fooled into believing that the current strategy is working as it is clearly not working. The allegiance of the EFCC should be and must be to Nigeria and Nigerians. The best approach that serves our own interest should be the top priority here.

If agencies and nations that contribute to the running of the EFCC are not comfortable with Nigeria taking a very strong stand on the issue of 419 scam then the Federal Government should as a matter of national importance provide the EFCC with all the necessary funds, manpower and tools so that they can do what is best for Nigeria and Nigerians. If you tell outsiders that your child is a bastard trust me outsiders will call that child a bastard anytime they want to and there is very little you can do about it.

There is hardly any nation that is completely free of crime including online scams. Anyone from anywhere with access to the internet can initiate an online scam. If majority of online scams are not committed by Nigerians then why is the world behaving as if they are committed by our own very people? However, this piece cannot dismiss the over 150 convictions the EFCC has recorded even when the system finds it difficult to convict a single armed robber.

So, while we hail the EFCC for the positives the agency should be ready to reevaluate the current strategies and seek for better and more effective legislation to even achieve more.


 

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