Easy access to the internet is boosting digital crimes, writes

Sonny Aragba-Akpore

     When the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) recently arrested the owner of a “yahoo yahoo” academy through a sting operation in Abuja, the commission probably raised the bar for its pursuit of alleged economic criminals in Nigeria.

The owner of the academy, said to be a 24-year-oldman was arrested somewhere in the Lokogoma axis of the Federal Capital Territory, alongside 16 of his trainees aged between 16 and 27 years.

Two cars –a Lexus Rx 350 and Toyota Highlander, laptops, smart phones, charms were part of the items recovered from them. 

The Abuja arrest was similar to an earlier one in Eket, Akwa Ibom State where 23 suspects including operators and trainees were nabbed by officials of the EFCC.

The suspects where between the ages of 19 and 35 years. They were undergoing training in various aspects of the internet scams such as love scam, online trading scam, theft identity, among others.

“Yahoo yahoo” is a Nigerian parlance for internet fraud which has gained currency in the country as access to the internet became prevalent.

Of Nigeria’s 214million population,109million have access to the internet and while it seems a cheery news, it’s also an opportunity for crime in various digital forms by those who desire “shap shap” wealth.

From the various arrests and convictions made by the EFCC so far, it shows the crime is nowhere near extinction. If anything at all, it is on the rise.

The government enacted Cybercrime Act 2015, a law that is expected to put a check on the growing crime rate. But strangely, in spite of a number of convictions under this Act and the penal code, young men and women are still plunging into the business.    .

And now that training schools are already mushrooming to initiate new members to join the cult, there are strong indications that the crime will continue to blossom.

The Act designates certain computers, systems, networks and information infrastructure as critical national information infrastructure and prescribes death penalty for violation of the critical infrastructure.

Hacking a computer system by internet fraudsters attracts various terms of imprisonment. The Act also stipulates various terms of imprisonment for identity theft, cyberstalking and cyberbullying. Cybersquatting, racist and xenophobic postings also attract various prison terms.

The Cybercrime Act 2015 permits network operators to keep all traffic data and subscribers’ information without necessarily violating individual privacy.

It also prescribes for lawful interception of electronic communication among others.

With a series of convictions already by the EFCC, it is not clear whether the crime is reducing or not. EFCC has so far arrested alleged internet fraudsters in several states of the Federation including 34 in Kwara, 36 in Enugu, 33 in Lagos, among others.

But its biggest breakthrough was the arrest of 402 suspects in the Lekki, Ajah axis of Lagos State between April and June 2021.

The EFCC sees Lekki as a major hub now as many of these young people navigate there to perpetuate their acts and join the nouveau riche.

Describing the arrested men and women as mostly millennial, with 82 of them in the age bracket of between 25 and 34, the EFCC said most of those arrested are either still in school, recent graduates or university dropouts.

The crime is not limited to the category listed by the EFCC as the commission recently arrested a mother and son in Kaduna for internet-related fraud.

Preliminary investigations say the duo were specialists in impersonation and romance scam; who take the identity of United States of America military personnel on foreign missions to deceive their victims.

 In five years alone a particular new generation bank lost N871m to scammers and hackers.

The Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System (NIBSS) reported that the first nine months in 2020, Nigerian banks lost over N5bn to fraud related to electronic transfers.

In reality, the digital revolution of e-banking has resulted to an equivalent revolution in e-banking frauds.

The rising rate of the internet fraud is said to be traceable to increasing access to digital literacy, near pervasive internet availability and access to smart devices.

In May 2019, the EFCC raided a “419 training school” in Lagos, arrested the proprietor, and eight students who were allegedly being taught skills to carry out cyber fraud.

These scams have continued to have negative effects on the image of Nigerians across the globe, as they are always perceived as fraudsters.

They have also affected international recognition of the country’s young entrepreneurs, and the granting of visas to those with legitimate business interests in the US and other parts of the world.

Nigeria loses about N127 billion yearly to internet fraud, an amount which represents 0.08% `of Nigeria’s gross domestic product, a report has revealed. The report also shows that the global yearly cost of cybercrime reached $6 trillion at the end of 2021.

Recent report by Palo Alto Networks, a California-based cyber-security company stated that it has researched Nigerian cyber-crime for five years. The report shows how fraudsters become more proficient at scams over the past five years, employing more sophisticated tactics and tools to carry out Business Email Compromise (BEC) scams, which is different from the classic “Yahoo Yahoo boys” scams 15 odd years earlier. Two 

Nigerians – Obiwanne Okeke popularly known as Invictus Obi and Ramon Olorunwa Abbas aka Hush Puppi pulled the biggest Internet scams in 2019 and 2020 respectively.

This perhaps informed the position of the Computer Professional Council of Nigeria (CPN) which rose recently from their yearly conference saying something urgent has to be done to reduce cybercrime in the country.

The Information Technology Professional Assembly yearly conference in Abuja recently prescribed ways to curtail cybercrimes in the country. Under the aegis of Computer Professional Registration Council of Nigeria (CPN) the professionals took a critical look at the serious role Information and Communications Technology plays at this difficult time that the whole world is facing enormous challenges in the area of cyber security, national security and socio-economic development.

“We are faced with enormous and daunting security challenges that require that we come up with new strategies and solutions. Such novel solutions can only come with the proper deployment of   Information Technology tools.” According to CPN President, Mr. Kole Jagun.

Nigeria like many countries, is faced with multi-faceted challenges of youth restiveness, non-traditional military warfare, cybercrime, banditry, kidnapping and many other crimes.

The assembly canvassed for the advancement and improvement on digital literacy and Information Technology awareness for all and sundry in order to improve the overall security architecture of the country.

They reasoned that Nigeria has a large percentage of youth population that are being trained in various universities and other higher institutions and there is need to give them the right training with the right curriculum to enable them come up with innovative digital solutions that could discourage them from engaging in social vices like drugs, crime and substance abuse..

Aragba-Akpore is a member of THISDAY Editorial Board

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