Curbing CyberFraud: The way forward by Anorkplim Loh

The following is a very interesting article about Cyber-Fraud. Although its written with a focus on Ghana, Nigeria’s CyberFraud National Problem is not too far fetched.

I’ll post a rejoiner in another post:

Curbing CyberFraud: The Way Forward
author: Anorkplim Loh

…In addition to requiring payments, the fraudsters may use the victim’s bank details and signature to withdraw money for themselves. In extreme cases the victim may be lured to a place where he or she may be kidnapped, have assets plundered, and then be murdered… (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advance_fee_fraud)

…The brains of our children are being horned for crime, their palates are being tuned to desire the finer things of life that otherwise would require a significant amount of hard work to attain. They are becoming criminals, defrauding and without conscience… These are ordinary Ghanaian children… falling to the lure of cyber crime… as we look on silently.

…A report by US payment processor CyberSource Corp says, as high as 76% and 58% of U.S. and Canadian merchants who accept international orders online shut off orders from Nigeria and Ghana respectively in 2008… The motive is induced by fraud, particularly in international e-commerce…

…However a war against cyber fraud that does not take into account the implication of depriving these young men and women of this illegitimate means of generating “income” could backfire when they resort to more violent crimes as a means of survival…

…a government that identifies the negative impact of fraud on its international relations, commerce and national integrity should have the political will to recover its nation from the rot, using a holistic multi-angled process that effectively minimizes the problem while mitigating the aftershocks on its people…

INTRODUCTION

On February 03 2009, the Coalition of Muslim Organizations, Ghana (COMOG) visited the president of Ghana with a petition that requested the president to deal aggressively with the upsurge of Crime in the country. Among other crimes, they listed cyber-café fraud as one of the most rampant. Like other crimes such as drug & substance abuse, this issue has been a no go area for many people living within the environs of this phenomenon

This article will dissect the issue of Cyber Café fraud as we know it in Ghana and its impact on our society. My researches indicate that approximately 1/4th of the youth in our capital cities have become engrossed in this phenomenon. To show you how wide spread this is, I will like to point out that in Nii Boi Town (near Lapaz in Accra) alone with a population of about 3000, there is minimum of 500 café boys (that’s what internet fraudsters are called locally). I have come across handful of university graduates who are active participants in these scams. To many of the participants, internet café fraud is a full time occupation triggered by unemployment and poverty.

INTERNET CAFÉ FRAUD, WHAT IS IT?

In a country where there is a sudden explosion of uncensored internet access there is the penchant for people to explore the outside world made available by this medium. In surfing the internet and interacting with people across the globe, someone discovers that they can dupe unsuspecting people by capitalizing on the anonymity and global accessibility of the internet. This gave birth to Cyber version of the Advance-fee-fraud. The explosion of dating websites and chat-rooms has resulted in a variation in cyber fraud. There are currently two major types of Cyber Fraud; however, in most cases both variations are employed concurrently in duping the victim.

CYBER FRAUD TYPE 1 (BUSINESS RELATED FRAUD – 419)

In this type of fraud, the perpetrator manages to contact the victim (who they usually called the “client”) either through mass-mailing or through a lead. The victim is promised an incredibly profitable return on his investment (usually shady and dubious). The popular baits include gold, diamond, lottery and the so called abandoned money that the client can help recover. Whatever, the bait, the true bait is the promise of instant wealth for the victim. These are well crafted plans with alibis that checkout and fake documents that some times originate from genuine sources such as the Office of the President, Attorney Generals dept and respectable banks. At times a duplicate website is designed which may look similar to a legitimate one or will redirect to a legitimate one when visited. Whatever be the case, the success of this modus operandi is basically ignorance or greed on the part of the victim. In the worse case scenario, the victim is lured to a location and physically attacked and robbed… or even killed. It I believed that this type of cyber fraud was carried over with the influx of Nigerians into Ghana beginning in 2002. However, it has seen a sturdy decline since 2006. The returns from this activity can range from 1,000 to 1,000,000 dollars. The high returns are commensurate with high legal implications of this modus operandi.

CYBER FRAUD TYPE 2 (PLEASURE RELATED FRAUD – 319)

In this type of fraud, the perpetrator is usually a young man posing as a woman (90%) or a young woman posing as a woman (7%). The remaining 3% are gay. Often these perpetrators are poor and hungry with no real options for making ends meet nor a real career path. Here the perpetrator presents themselves as a willing partner for a romantic relationship. The victim (often referred to as the “pal”) is usually a bored rich old man or someone in the mid-forties. The perpetrator presents themselves as a fabulously luscious young lady (using pictures from pornographic or fashion websites). The promise of overseas love is found so attractive and irresistible that the victim (who at times is a dissatisfied husband or wife or attention deprived) will do anything to get this kind of attention. The victim commits to love over the internet with the hope that they will meet their lovers eventually. For the perpetrators, the rules of the game is to

Always have an alibi to need money

Always have an alibi not to be able to visit or be visited

When the worse happens, find a prostitute for the victim or disappear

An when arrested, pay your way out

The returns from these activities for an individual can range from 100 dollars to 100,000 dollars. The legal ramifications of this activity are not as high as in the above mode of operation.

WHO ARE CAFÉ BOYS?
I have had the opportunity of interacting with a number of young men & women involved in cyber fraud, most of them in the second type. They are predominantly ordinary youth aged between 7 and 30 years with generally acceptable attitudes and behaviors, respectful and cautious that is before they get the money. They would normally spend over 14 hours a day at the computer trying to sweet-talk a “pal” into parting with some money. When they are able to obtain money from a pal (which they refer to as a “hit” ), a few remain sane and undertake self developing activities such as schooling, relocating their family to better accommodation, investing in a business or purchasing some real estate such as land. The majority, when they “hit”, will immediately embark on a spending spree which involves the following:

Buy a car

Change their wardrobe

Grab a couple of earrings

Buy some heavy trinkets and chains (called “blinks”)

Buy or rent a house

Grab a couple of girls (often prostitutes)

Hit the clubs and pubs on a drinking spree

Go shopping for expensive electronic gadgets

Once the money is gone in approximately (2 weeks to a month) they sell their assets at a ridiculously low price and use the proceeds to kick-start another grass-grace-grass cycle by returning to the café. This cycle applies to 95% of the café boys. Their trademark includes their western gangster style dressing with “blinks”, earrings, and alloy rimmed cars. The reason for this perpetual grass-to-grace-to-grass is a subject for psychology discussions. In the worse case scenario, internet café boys have been rumored to undertake rituals (white magic) which may in extreme cases involve human sacrifice to obtain favors from their “clients” and “pals”. It must be noted that the majority of these boys are not aliens, these are ordinary Ghanaian children.

OBSERVED BENEFITS

Observably, the huge numbers of youth and matured people involved in this phenomenon cannot be over stated. The result is that a significant number of people who otherwise would have been techno-phobic are computer literate and quite comfortable with the internet. I have seen young otherwise illiterate kids typing at about 40 words a minute.

Also, there is a higher level of exposure to the outside world resulting from the perpetration of this act.

The mysterious increase in inward remittances and cash inflows between 2000 and 2008 may have been partly as a result of a significant number of cyber fraudsters receiving remittances from their “clients” and “pals” via taxable wire transfers. This may also have accounted for a certain level of stability of the local currency.

Fewer youth are found on the streets, thus (speculatively) are less likely to be enticed into more dangerous means of making ends meet (that is while cyber fraud is still an attractive option).

Though they may probably come into the country as sex tourists, victims of cyber fraud may be enticed to visit and spend money in Ghana and thus increase cash inflows.

Finally, their opulent spending results in redistribution of some wealth from western nations into ordinary hands of the “poor” and malnourished Ghanaian in society thus bridging the gap between the rich and the poor.

Cyber Fraud has been very profitable to Internet Café owners and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) since these fraudsters operate either from home or from a café.

DANGERS AND DISADVANTAGES

As noted above, there are some extrinsic benefits to Cyber Fraud; however, the phenomenon raises serious issues that cannot be overlooked. It is important to identify not just the currently observable dangers associated with this practice but also, the long-term negative impact.

The first concern is the ethical and moral question it raises. Should society condone what is generally accepted as a dishonest means of obtaining wealth? Is it in our interest as a nation to condone this practice? Are we being responsible citizens by tolerating this practice?

Personally, I believe that the negative impact of such a phenomenon far outweighs the benefits both in the short and long-term, and I would explain my position shortly.

For one, the practice is ethically, legally and morally wrong since it smacks of misrepresentation of facts on the part of the perpetrator for the purposes of obtaining a favor. It is legally fraudulent thus the name cyber-fraud.

The lifestyle of these café boys leave much to be desired. Being the nouveau riche of the society and young, they are classically found doing the following:

Getting drunk

Drunk driving

Smoking (both cigarette and weed)

Over-speeding

Frequenting night clubs

Picking up prostitutes

Driving unregistered cars

Engaging in brawls

Bribing public officials to aid their quests or turn a blind eye

And a host of other vices

It is important to note that majority of them (75%) are Ghanaian children under 18 years, and for that matter are at the least breaking the law and at most endangering other citizens lives.

I have witnessed two accidents, one in which a café boy drove into a shop and another involving a coalition with public transport. In each instance, the perpetrator was a drunken café boy in an unregistered vehicle. In the incident with the public transport, the café boy attempted to run away. The irony of this incident was that the police patrol team initially ignored the situation until the café boy had threatened a lone police officer who had been called to the scene. These two incidents may be my experiences, but many may have experienced same involving these café boy drivers in vehicles which are virtually untraceable.

NEGATIVE PRESS & ECONOMIC DAMAGE

Another important impact of these practices is the negative press, loss of credibility and bad image that these practices generate for the nation and for institution such as the banks in the country. Currently, it is extremely difficult to transact legitimate business online with a legally acquired credit or debit card. Many companies in the Western world have blacklisted the country because they find it cheaper to blacklist all credit card transactions coming from that country than to sort out the good transactions from the bad. Such negative blows to our credibility cements the difficulty that we face in our attempts to penetrate the western markets with our products. Even if we succeed in marketing our products, the mediums of transactions will be limited due to mistrust.

Sex tourism and pimping are becoming the offshoots of this phenomenon. In some cases, the promise of finding sex in Ghana is so appealing that many foreigners take the trip to Ghana anyways even if they cannot trace their partner (the café boy). They come in and find themselves a whore to frolic with. This may account for the explosion of prostitution in Ghana (checkout the pubs).In some instance homosexuals and pedophiles have come in to meet with these kids.

The rituals (white magic) performed by these young men to obtain wealth show their level of desperation and it is not far fetched to assume that they might kill for ritual purposes (we may not be there yet but we will get there if the situation is not arrested).

Over a period of time, the opulence exhibited by these café boys has become so attractive that many young Ghanaians who genuinely have the option to attend school or undertake other self developing activities have turned down that option to indulge in cyber fraud fulltime and live off the returns.

Also, it cannot be said to be a sustainable means of generating income and cannot be guaranteed to remain operational since an internal or external clamp-down could occur at anytime. The concern is with the fact that perpetrators would have to find an alternative source of income if a clamp down should occur. As these young boys have become comfortable with excessive spending, it is quite disturbing to ponder what alternative methods some would device for generating income. I will speculate that a significant number would resort to drugs and robbery. The brains of these poor victims of circumstance are being horned for crime, their palates are being tuned to desire the finer things of life that otherwise would require a significant amount of hard work to attain

WHAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT THE SITUATION?

To effectively deal with the problem, as a nation, we would have to accept the fact that cyber fraud will cripple our economy and our youth eventually. Recognizing that we have ignored the problem for rather too long can aid the solution. By ignoring or condoning the situation, we are indirectly training the next generation of drug traffickers and armed robbers and, trust me, it is huge proportion of our youth.

I would attempt to outline to the best of my knowledge a step by step process for recovering the nation from this mess.

1. We need to identify the causes and effect of the problem
2. We will need to identify the scope of the problem – how widespread how and deep it goes
3. We need to holistically Identify the elements that sustain it
4. We must understand the implication of stopping the practice
5. We must know what to do to prevent a backlash from the perpetrators

In other words, in as much as we need to terminate the practice by all means, we must not overlook the potential impact on our lives especially the negative impact. For instance, if not stopped, cyber café fraud will eventually condition more Ghanaian children to become corrupt, immoral, violent and impulsive (as they shun education for quick money). However a war against cyber fraud that does not take into account the impact of depriving the perpetrators of this money making avenue can backfire when they resort to more violent crimes to survive.

It must be noted that to eliminate cyber fraud or at least to significantly reduce the incidence, a combination of approaches, some of which I will discuss, can be used.

1. IMPLEMENT A PROGRAM TO REHABILITATE THESE CHILDREN

The first step to resolving the problem of cyber fraud overwhelming our youth is to research the scope of the problem and establish a programme that creates interaction between the youth and resource people (counselors) as a means of finding a lasting exit option and a lasting alternative for those involved.

Having been practicing cyber fraud for more than seven years in the absence of any significant clamp down, some kids have no alternative to this life style. They must therefore be guided out of the practice. On the whole, an organization could be set up similar to a youth employment scheme that will provide guidance and alternatives for these young men and women.

In as much as the approach must be aggressive, we cannot afford to be vindictive and judgmental but rather, sympathetic and accommodating to people.

Those who have already acquired significant funds from the practice before the clamp-down can be guided to positively channel these resources. Counseling must involve a strong mental and moral re-orientation component. Religious non-governmental organizations can be encouraged to take up this task with the support of churches. The aim of this enterprise is to save the nation from a major explosion in crime that would result from these young men and women losing their means of livelihood. This is a long term process.

2. ENACT AND ENFORCE LAWS TO REGULATE INTERNET SERVICE PROVIDERS (ISPs)

Internet as we know it flows from various sources but is mainly provided by Internet service providing (ISP) companies, telecom companies and private satellite installations (VSAT). In Ghana, the main sources include

Fiber optic network belonging to Ghana telecom

VSATs belonging to other Internet service providers (ISPs)

VSATs belonging to individuals

GSM /Wimax /CDMA technology

At the risk of stoking the fury of organizations that advocate internet and information freedom, the nation must enact and enforce laws that make it mandatory for local ISPs, internet cafes and private internet users to enforce a filtering or standardized ban on certain websites. This may not solve the problem but it will ensure that there is a legal basis to prosecute perpetrators when they are caught. The sites to be blacklisted would be published online on a nationally recognized website. Public internet cafes will be required to publish this banned sites list in their cafes. A regulatory body, ideally the police must undertake periodic swoops to enforce this law.

3. BLACKLISTING AND BLOCKING OF SITES

There are firewall systems that can be used to block websites that have been identified to aid cyber fraud (blacklisting). To save national resources and time, police swoops can be aimed at inspecting the banned lists in the firewall systems of these public cafes. Any public internet café that flouts the ban can be legally prosecuted (fined or closed down for a period).

A standard free-to-use firewall application like Dans guardian could be recommended for this purpose.

4. FIXING THE PROBLEM FROM THE SOURCE (INTERNET GATEWAY)

My research indicates that currently, majority of internet cafes (from where the greater number of cyber fraudsters operate) utilize Ghana Telecom as their ISP. Therefore, by simply placing a firewall at the Ghana Telecom internet gateway to filter internet content, a good number of perpetrators would have been cut off from the practice. This must not be seen in the negative light because every successful government regulates the flow of information to protect the national interest.

5. CLAMPING DOWN ON THE TARGET – THE MONEY, RECEIVING AND SPENDING CHANNELS

Money laundering is a crime and in a responsible society individuals are required to account for their source of income by showing beyond doubt that the source is legal. Secondly, legitimate income is taxable. Perpetrators of cyber fraud do not only flout tax laws but also, their income is illegal. In this light, there must be legally sanctioned monitoring of wire-transfer sources such as Moneygram, Western Union and the banks.

Secondly without any formal understanding of money laundering, my research indicates that the two major sources by which such illegally gotten wealth is laundered are cars and landed property. The cars a hurriedly acquired and driven unlicensed for some time after which it is sold. Same thing applies to landed property.

Thus the above can be monitored, particularly garages and unlicensed vehicles. Tell-tale signs the police must look out for include underage youth in plush “alloy rimmed” sedans with DV number plates.

6. ENFORCING SUBSTANCE ABUSE AND AGE LIMIT REGULATIONS

The over exuberance of the youth is reinforced by access to drugs and alcohol made possible by their ill-gotten wealth and an explosion of pubs and night-clubs. It is not uncommon to see some underage kids reveling in unrestrained stupor while others drive recklessly up and down adjoining streets in their cars. This is the most common use to which majority of the perpetrators (café-boys) put their money. It is therefore in this light that a re-establishment of restriction and disciplinary measures against excessive consumption of alcohol, drunk driving and underage presence in pubs and clubs must be enforced.

FINANCING THE PROGRAMME

One of the challenges of implementing a large scale project aimed at combating Cyber fraud is financing. Such a project will cost several hundreds of Ghana cedi to implement. In my view, all parties who have vested interest in seeing the decline of cyber fraud should contribute. This would include

The Government of Ghana

Countries with vested economic interests in Ghana

Corporate entities in Ghana

Corporate entities outside Ghana

Every Ghanaian

The government of Ghana is ultimately responsible for addressing this problem since the risk of economic isolation and social disintegration looms. In as much as I do not subscribe to sourcing foreign grants to address national issues, because of the often unpalatable conditions associated with it, I am of the view that being an international issue that has global impact, external stakeholders should be willing to extend a hand towards resolving it. Donor countries and foreign corporations lose significant global business to fraud and like the drug menace; any attempt to combat it will be supported.

Internally, the government must outline a plan of action with budgetary allocation aimed at curbing the problem. Also, NGOs and CSO can mobilize and individually source funding to delve into this untapped area with the aim of guiding and re-orientating misguided youth. An integrated skills training programme will ensure that the intellectual acumen being employed in the fraudulent activities is channeled into useful skill that would be financially rewarding to the individual and the nation.

CONCLUSION

This article attempts to outline the impact of the ever-growing incidence of Cyber Fraud on the Ghanaian society, juxtaposing the pros and cons. My personal conclusion is that the impact of this practice is invariably negative on the people and the economy of this country especially in the long-term. I have gone on to outline measures to curb the menace and to arrest the undesirable fate that may befall this nation as a result. I am of the believe that with sufficient political will and a re-awakening of our social consciousness as patriotic Ghanaians we shall effectively manage this problem and appropriate address the issue. As usual Ghana must lead the way in curbing this menace.

Credit: Anorkplim Loh [Email: blogloh@yahoo.com]

 

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