EFCC Bursting Cyber Crimes, Making Global Businesses Safer

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John Meyaki

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, has always been judged, unfairly, by most Nigerians including this writer, on the number of politically-exposed persons it had successfully prosecuted. Perhaps, the only thing that would excite most anti-corruption activists and other Nigerians is to see more thieving public officials in jail. This writer is not excluded.  

But while corruption in the public service has become a cog in the wheel of national progress and we want to see more corrupt officials pay for their crimes, we must also recognize the danger posed to our national wellbeing by cyber criminals.

Cyber criminals popularly called ‘Yahoo Boys’ are a menace to the Nigerian financial system and the invariably the economy. In 2017 alone, cyber-attacks across Nigeria resulted in total losses of $649 million, significantly up from the $550 million it cost in 2016.

In the same year, the Nigerian Electronic Fraud Forum Report estimated that financial damages from online banking fraud during 2015-2017 amounted to N5.571 billion, with mobile payments fraud rising to almost N350 million in 2017 and ATM fraud climbing to roughly N500 million in the same year. Nigeria is now believed to rank third in electronic crime globally, surpassed only by the UK and the US.

Cybercrimes had risen so high in the country that the government had to enact the Nigerian Cybercrime Act 2015, which prescribes the death penalty, N10 million fine or jail term of five years for crimes such as attack on a national communication infrastructure, hacking or cyber stalking among others.

It is therefore hardly a surprise that the EFCC has included tracking and prosecuting cybercrimes among operational priorities. News report about EFCC’s arrest of cyber criminals have recently become part of the news menu served daily by the media.

Whether in Enugu, Lagos, Benin, Abuja or Kano, operatives of the anti-graft agency are closing in on all shades of internet scammers. Their operational modality is similar in all states and cities on the agency’s crime-map. After securing the permission of the state police command, armed operatives storm the designated criminal hide-outs closing entrances and exits and conduct searches on the residences until the targets are located.

At the end of the operation, some young boys are arrested along with their exotic cars, laptops and expensive phones, especially iPhones. This has gone on almost daily since the beginning of the year and it is making the financial system of the country and the international business world safer. But no one seemed to have taken notice of these incredible actions until the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI, released the news that 77 Nigerians were among 80 people facing charges of cybercrimes in the US.

But the news came as a shock to many Nigerians who might not have known how widespread cybercrimes have become in Nigeria, and the admirable job the EFCC was doing to stop it. It is gratifying to learn that Nigeria is among nations co-operating with the FBI to stamp out cyber crimes and make international business safer.

The FBI’s global reporting internet fraud body received 20,373 Business E-mail Compromised (BEC) complaints with losses of over $1.2 billion. To help global business and make the world’s financial systems a lot safer, the EFCC is now partnering with the FBI and similar organizations around the world to ensure there’s no hiding place for criminals who compromise business emails and international business transactions.

Since the FBI revelation last month, the EFCC had gone into automatic mode to dismantle the criminal enterprise of computer fraudsters. A coordinated operation with the FBI tagged: ‘Operation Rewired’, has led to the arrest of 167 suspected cyber criminals and recovery of $169,850 as well as N92 million. In addition, exotic cars, plots of land in choice areas of Lagos and a property in Abuja were recovered during the operations.

It was an international model operation targeted at computer-related frauds and designed to intercept and interrupt the global network of internet fraudsters.

For an operation that lasted just three weeks to have recorded such success says a lot about the men at the EFCC and the gut of the man leading them. Despite the challenges he faced due to his non-confirmation by the 8th senate, Acting Chairman of the commission, Mr. Ibrahim Magu, has shown a rare grit and hunger for success since his appointment. Part of what drives him, perhaps, would be a determination to prove detractors wrong. But all who knew the man before his appointment attested to his professionalism and a strong sense of duty. He was touted as the man behind the success of Nuhu Ribadu, the fiery ex-chairman of the anti-graft commission.  

The success of the FBI-EFCC partnership was possible because a lot of the groundwork had been done by operatives of the EFCC who had gathered valuable intelligence on internet scammers. Before ‘Operation Rewired’, the anti-graft agency had launched intensive investigative actions against the ‘yahoo yahoo boys’, culminating into various strategic raids on criminals hideout, prosecutions and convictions.

In Edo, Delta and Ondo States alone, the commission secured 53 convictions in the last six months out of 113 suspected internet criminals arrested. One of them included a female fraudster said to have collaborators in the US.

 The American collaborators use the information she gives to file for fraudulent tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service after which she is given her cut through Bitcoin. According to Muktar Bello, the zonal head of EFCC in Edo, about 185 Bitcoin, which by current market value is N656,371,490, had been traced to her. Over 38 exotic cars, laptops, handsets and other items were also recovered.

In the Kano Zone, the commission had also recovered over N798 million from suspects over financial-related offences between January and August and arrested 280 suspects. The commission had already filed charges and pursuing 51money laundering cases in court. Similar successes have been recorded in other zones.

Magu is understandably excited at the successes of his men in the operation to rid society of computer scammers and has sent warning to criminals to turn a new leaf. At a media briefing in Abuja recently, he advised youths against living a life of crime as the EFCC would, sooner than later, get them.

 “I wish to state with a high sense of responsibility, there is no short cut to success other than hard work. The youths, therefore, must shun crime and its alluring temptations, because it will always end in sorrow and regrets. Now that the infamous internet crimes have received global attention and concern, there will be no hiding place for fraudsters,” he said.

Magu’s boast is not an empty threat to internet fraudsters. It is statement of intent and commitment to making domestic and international financial transactions more secure. The on-going collaboration with international law enforcement agencies, especially in the area of exchange of information and actionable intelligence, will certainly enhance arrest and prosecution of more perpetrators of financial crimes. Magu and his men must not rest on their oars. This is the time to achieve what had hitherto seemed impossible. Magu must continue to lead his men in battle to narrow the room for financial scammers, including the nation’s legion of looting public officials.

––John Meyaki, a public affairs commentator, writes from Jos