What Nigerians do in cyber cafes
Nigeria (The Sun) --
July 26, 2004
What Nigerians do in cyber cafes
The growth in the number of cyber cafes and the immense attraction they hold for Nigerians are giving rise to unintended consequences, reports JERRY AMAH.
Recently, the Federal Government took a major step towards dealing with cyber crimes in Nigeria with the receipt of a draft cyber-crime act and the inauguration of the Nigeria Cyber-crime Working Group (NCWG).
President Olusegun Obasanjo, while receiving the report of the presidential committee on cyber crime stated that Internet fraud, just like advanced fee fraud popularly known in Nigerian as ‘419’ has caused a lot of embarrassment to the government.
President Obasanjo said that a law is needed to fight cyber crime, adding that “the internet 419 has already become an embarrassment to the country, 419 by itself has caused us dearly, and when you now practice 419 on the internet, it becomes even more embarrassing. The only way we can restore trust in our system with the consequence of sustaining private sector interest in Nigeria and attracting the much needed foreign direct investment is by dealing with the few fraudsters among us who utilise information and communication technology (ICT) system and infrastructure to commit crimes in cyber space.”
Before setting up the NCWG, the President had on November 26, 2003 set up a 15-member committee that had the Attorney-General of the Federation, the Inspector-General of Police, the Director-General of the State Security Services (SSS) the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) as members. The president tasked the committee to fashion out regulations that would nip in the bud the menace of computer-related fraud that are now widespread in a country that is yet to attain full computer use. The concern of the president was that if the use of computers rises above the 25 per cent that it has been in the last few years, criminals could use the facility to perpetrate nefarious activities. “The internet has become the home of scammers who busy themselves sending all sorts of scam mails and perpetrating all sorts of computer crimes.”
By all standard government’s uneasiness over the activities of fraudsters using the Internet is not without substance. The varieties of crimes that could be committed through the Internet, with the cyber cafes as the interface. With the proliferation of cyber cafйs that have led to an increase in knowledge and use of computer among Nigerians, it is estimated that cyber crime could well become a major challenge in the immediate future.
Cyber cafй has been described as a place where people of diverse cultures and characters meet. It has equally been likened to a virtual market where all manners of business transactions are carried out, some genuine and some clandestine in nature. Also any operators of cyber cafйs are into the business as a source of employment, while others with sinister intentions use to perpetuate fraud related activities. Aside from browsing, internet calls fax, printing and scanning, which are the legitimate activities in the cyber cafes, scam letters, pornography and a home for straying school kids, that they have been turned into.
Femi Abodunrin, administrator of Netdom Network, a net-based service organisation that has contributed in the setting up of many cyber cafйs, said: “Majority of the present day cyber cafйs have abandoned the services of just browsing, faxing, making internet calls, scanning and printing materials. The reason for this is that these services do not bring in revenue as fast as possible, they therefore want to turn their cyber cafйs into a fast money-making machine. These days some cyber cafйs that are fully into dubious business are mostly empty during the day time, but become a beehive of activities at nights.”
Does the high capital outlay of these cyber cafйs not count against the original ideas for encouraging their spread? “As far as my organisation is concerned we have done what we think is necessary to encourage the creation of wealth and reduce the number of unemployed youths roaming our streets. But if a fraction of these people decide to turn it into something different, that does not mean that cyber cafй’s are bad,” said Abodunrin.
This is not a drive towards materialism or the worship of mammon, no. It’s about being useful in this world and being a blessing to others. It’s about being able to fulfil your purpose on earth and being able to escape from the poverty and rat race that 97 per cent of people on earth have to face. In short, it is about freedom…financial freedom and financial wealth.” The growth of cyber cafйs in Nigeria attracted scammers who hitherto carried out their business through the traditional postal service. The cyber cafй therefore has become the source of recent increase in the number of scam letters from Nigeria, said to constitute the fourth largest group of spam mail in the world. Spam mails are unsolicited e-mails sent to people, promising to reward the recipients if they accept the proposed business transactions.
Some years back when the country’s Internet penetration was low, many of these scam letters were sent through the traditional route, which the Nigerian Postal Service (NIPOST) provided. It was a common then to hear that NIPOST had seized and set on fire millions of letters intended for foreigners to dupe them. The activities of the postal service forced the scammers to abandon NIPOST and shift patronage to the postal services of neighbouring countries.
The inconveniences and logistic involved in transporting these letters that are sometimes in their thousands, were enormous since these scammers work in groups. But the emergence and growth of the cyber cafйs, reduced or eliminated the need to cross the borders to post letters, especially now that many people, particularly those that have money in foreign countries could easily be reached through their e-mail addresses.
A greater number of cyber cafй users interviewed refused to state clearly their mission, while others said they use the cafйs for genuine business transactions. Chidiebube Amadi, an engineer with one of the cyber cafй along Idimu Road in Lagos gave an insight: “Most people I know use it for very good reasons like sourcing for jobs, finding business ideas and conducting legal business with foreigners.
Others shop online and sell online as well. But of course for every good thing, you will always find some bad eggs trying to misuse it. For instance the coming of cyber cafй has made fraudulent practices really easy for the 419ners that do not have to send their scam mails through the post anymore with the fear of it being destroyed. With the net they send as many as 100 scam mails a day. While others that include students in school uniforms use the site to watch pornographic materials and films. The youths are more prone to this ugly act and it is really very bad because they are supposed to be our future and therefore shouldn’t be wasting valuable time doing all these wrong things.”
Not even the beautiful game of football is safe from exploitation by these scammers, as they have started using the World Cup 2010 that is billed to hold in South Africa as bait to dupe people. Nigerians, according to Cash’n’carrion of scam biters have cooked up a footballing variant of the familiar lottery ruse in preparation for the World Cup. They set up the fake lottery known as Gracious Holdings Inc A.A.S.L, where they congratulate their victims that they have just won a lump sum of US$750,000 in cash, and that they should start processing the payment by contacting one Katie Whiteson with their private details on or before July 7, 2004.
Eniola Martins, who resides in Lagos, had a first hand experience. “Nigerians never make good use of anything. Any new thing in this country is used to perpetrate evil. I am just coming from the cyber cafй and the guy sitting next to me was just busy sending scam mails and when he noticed I was watching, he pretended as though his system was not working and asked to be switched to another one so as to avoid my prying eyes. This is one of the many evils Nigerians commit through the net.
Others go there, pay good money all in the name of night browsing and watch or log on to pornographic sites all through the night instead of doing something lucrative with their time. This is not to say that other Nigerians do not use cyber cafes for good means, but most of them, believe cyber cafй owners allow people to commit these crime all for a price. It is really discouraging.”
Also, cyber terrorism has reached an alarming level in recent times to the extent that organisations and individuals lose millions of dollars through hacking viruses. John Osibodo, a product/solutions manager with Soft Solutions Limited admits that “future virus threats are going to come in more sophisticated manner combining virus infections with hacking into networks to corrupt data or steal very confidential information.
Recently, a well-known and reputable Nigerian Bank that delivers e-banking solutions lost about N5 million to hackers and cyber terrorists who gained access to its network from outside the organisation and manipulated data to commit this nefarious act.”
But in spite of these menace emanating from cyber cafes, Owolabi Yinka, a banker based in Lagos believes cyber cafйs are not all that bad news, according to him, “It is very true that a lot of bad businesses go on at cyber cafes, but that should not be allowed to overshadow the good and important uses of cyber cafes and the internet in general. Many Nigerians are living a much more relaxed life now because through the cyber cafй they can send mails and make contacts with loved ones.
“So many Nigerians are making good use of the cyber cafes. It is not everybody you see at the cyber cafй that is there to commit crime. I have a friend who checks his bank statement online and another who is taking a course online. In fact many Nigerians use cyber cafes for very good means.”
Stanley Ubawuoso, a Youth Corp Member, said a greater number of cyber cafй users go there to find out new things. “Nigerians do a lot at cyber cafй, you know it is like a child with a new toy. He would not sleep until he finds out the tricks and things that toy can do. So it is with Nigerians and the coming of the cyber cafй. They just want to explore the vast interiors of the Net. That is why many people sit at the cyber cafй for hours browsing the Web.”
Baiting the predator
A foreign organisation known as the scam baiters has been launched and is dedicated to fighting those behind 419 e-mails. This group of volunteers use their computer skills to fool the scammers, to disrupt their crime and to have some fun at the scammer’s expense. The fun, according to Dan Damon, a BBC correspondent has gone to the extent that the scammers themselves cannot spot an obvious scam. “I think it operates in much the same way as it does with the real victims. Greed clouds their judgement, which is what happens to those who fall for the 419 scams; they just see all these millions.” The 419 eaters send all their e-mail exchanges to the police in the United Kingdom, Nigeria and to the FBI, without having any response. And even warning the victims does no good either, because most of them don’t want to believe they’re being scammed,” he said.
Last week the effort of the Federal Government at curbing financial crime and money laundering was commended by the global body set up to monitor the financial system. In a letter to President Olusegun Obasanjo, the head of the international Financial Action Task Force (FATF), Claes Norgren, said Nigeria has made substantial progress since 2001 to fight economic and financial crime especially fraudsters who operate e-mail scams.
The economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) is currently prosecuting over 500 suspected fraudsters currently detained by the commission. But Nuhu Ribadu, chairman, is not happy that Nigeria is the only country in the world that has failed to apply special laws or established dedicated front offices to combat the crimes. “The commission believes that some of the 419 cases are facilitated by highly-placed, corrupt government officials,” he added.
On the positive side, however, the EFCC has recovered property worth over N66.4 billion from the fraudsters. The EFCC had demonstrated its resolve and commitment by arresting many previously untouchable 419 kingpins, although the identities of those in custody are not revealed. Observers believe they include legislators, lawyers, politicians, bankers and public functionaries. To eliminate this scourge, a new software technology that would identity key words used in letters is likely to be made available to Internet service providers and government departments. Mustafa Bello, executive secretary of the Nigeria Investment Commission, told a meeting of Africa’s World Economic Forum held in Maputo. In all, Nigerians are yet to benefit from the advantage of the Internet and cyber cafй and the many possibilities for national growth and development.
As it is with most other things in the country, inability to police cyber cafes has led to an increase in the number of crimes perpetrated through cyber cafes.
Source: The Sun
Contact: Jerry Amah