Just before you go to sleep, you lock your doors and windows and probably say a short prayer for your safety. But while ensuring your physical safety, are you cyber safe? This is a very valid question everyone needs to ask themselves in this ever-evolving world where personal information floats haplessly about in the internet.
The prevalence of threats to internet safety is so much these days that a cyber security expert in 2017 quipped that “it is easier to be a victim of a cybercrime than to be knocked down by a reckless driver on a busy road”. This threat to cyber safety is so pronounced that most security agencies all over the world now have special departments to help combat cybercrimes.
Currently in Nigeria, internet fraud appears to be the bread and butter for a lot of young and middle-aged individuals. Even millennials, are not left out of this thriving business. This trend is so prevalent across the country, so much so that there are rumours of clandestine schools where young boys are trained on how to be successful internet fraudsters popularly known as yahoo boys.
The success rate of these internet fraudsters is so profound that according to an FBI agent, between the period of January to July in 2019, a sum of 1.1 billion dollars had been stolen from Americans through various internet scams by Nigerians.
Just this month, the FBI released a list of 80 Nigerians who were involved in internet fraud. Just between the top two named individuals, Valentine Iro and Chukwudi Igbokwe, they had facilitated a series of internet schemes that saw them swindle multiple victims from more than 10 countries of at least $6 million dollars.
According to Adam Meyers, vice-president of Crowdstrike, a security firm, he states that “most of these Nigerian internet fraudsters are more like a crew from the mafia in the old days. Once you get into their organization, you’re initiated and given a new name”. He goes on to say that these groups have their own music and language even with a well-developed system and hierarchy and anyone who goes against the tenets of the group is severely dealt with.
In 2015, three Nigerian nationals residing in South Africa, were convicted of a range of crimes including identity theft and internet card fraud. They were sentenced to 115, 95, and 25 years imprisonment respectively.
With such punitive measures meted out on these fraudsters, one would think it would deter other young Nigerians from joining this trend. Alas, the reverse is the case. With the widespread poverty in the country and the complementary high rate of unemployment even among educated Nigerians, internet fraud seems to be the only way out for a lot of young individuals. These sad economic realities therefore serve to dampen the severity of any punitive measures put in place by both local and international law enforcement agencies.
Seeing how proficient these internet fraudsters are, inventing new tricks to defraud when they notice the old ones have been found out and even going as far as combining new tricks with well-known old ones, one would ask how can a person successfully avoid falling a victim to internet fraud.
Here are a few tips to stay safe and a step ahead of these fraudsters:
1. Never pay upfront for things such as jobs, credit and loan offers, prizes supposedly won, mortgage assistance, etc. More often than not, they’d take your money and disappear.
2. Before paying for anything or give out personal information, make sure to discuss with someone you can trust. It never hurts to have a second opinion on such matters.
3. Everything that goes on these days has an online footprint. So before making that big decision to send money to a person or group or to share personal information, carry out an online research using special search engine words such as “complaint”, “review” or “scam”.
4. Sometimes, payment methods are the biggest red flags in detecting internet fraudsters. Most fraudsters and shady companies would request for money to be paid through services like MoneyGram or Western Union. These methods are totally risky and it’s nearly impossible to get your money back. No honest business or parastatal would require anyone to make payments using such methods.
5. Never send out money in response to sudden or unexpected requests from anyone claiming to be someone you should trust like a charity organization, a government official, or even a family member.