I was asked recently by a foreign friend why Nigeria is globally notorious for Internet fraud. It was Emmanuel Nwude who defrauded a Brazilian Bank of the sum of $242 million between 1995 and 1998 in an audacious scam centred on an investment in a fictitious airport in return for millions of dollars in commission. The scam is recorded as one of Nigeria’s top cases of advance fee fraud. Today, fraudsters have moved from the streets and boardrooms to internet pages to practise their craft. The advent of mobile telephony and access to the internet in Nigeria in the early 2000s opened up Nigerians to a new world of communication and networking with people in other climes. This has brought up many issues. Harmless chats with friends from other countries on Yahoo Messenger developed into a scam popularly referred to as Yahoo yahoo.
Let’s admit the truth; Nigeria is globally notorious for internet fraud. It is a fact we cannot run away from. But why is this so? Let’s examine some reasons why Nigeria is globally notorious for internet fraud.
1. The Nigerian Prince scam
Firstly, the ubiquitous Nigerian Prince is one of the major reasons why foreigners are run away from you when you reveal yourself as a Nigerian during online transactions and deals. The Nigerian Prince is a scam email that is sent to the mailboxes of random internet users around the world. Typically, the Nigerian Prince emails you to inform you that he has come into an inheritance of some huge amount of money; millions of dollars and pounds and wants to invest the money in a business in your country but he is having issues moving the money from his account, so he needs your help to wire the cash in exchange for a commission. He promises you a mouth-watering commission if only you can send your banking details to him. There are many variations of the scam story but it all centres around you giving the scammer who is the “Nigerian Prince” your details or sending him money to seal the deal.
Unfortunately, many people especially in the western world fall for these scam stories and end up losing their monies. They then tag all Nigerians as internet fraudsters who must be avoided at all costs and the stereotyping continues. Fraudsters from other countries also latch on the Nigerian Prince image to scam victims and further tarnish the image of Nigeria and Nigerians.
Romance scams are as old as history itself but they contribute a great deal to the stereotyping of Nigeria as a place of internet fraudsters. Young Nigerians hack into social media accounts and use them to pose as men or ladies looking for love online. Through a series of psychological manipulations, they trick lonely, often widowed and middle-aged victims from Western countries to fall in love with them.
As soon as the scammers notice that the woman/man is hooked onto and trusts them, they quickly proceed to the next stage of the scam; asking for money. Suddenly, the lover is stuck somewhere and needs a little cash to fix the problem, will the lover girl/lover boy send some money to help? The women/men who are already head over heels in love wire the cash and the issue is fixed, but only temporarily. Soon enough he/she needs to borrow more money for something urgent and the lover sends the money. They keep sending money again and again and before they realize it, they have sent a lot of money and are enmeshed in a long web of lies and deceit. By the time they realize they have been scammed, it is too late as the lover is flexing in Nigeria with the money, clubbing and washing his hands with champagne and cruising on his Benz.
According to a 2021 study by a group, Techshieder, Nigeria is the second most notorious country for romance scams, coming after the Philippines. The report states that the total amount of money lost to Nigerian dating scams is over $16.8 million. That’s quite a huge amount of money!
3. Destruction of social norms and moral values
The moral fabric of our society is falling apart, our norms and value system has been discarded for a new set of norms that worships money with no question asked about the source. The Nigerian pop culture celebrates fraud and that’s a third reason why Nigeria is globally notorious for fraud. We seem to have lost our minds over money! Our music celebrates frauds and fraudsters, the lyrics of the hit songs on the playlist tells the youths to defraud others. Cash app, a song whose lyrics openly legitimizes fraud was one of the trendiest songs of 2021. The yahoo yahoo kingpins have moved a step further to funding Nigerian music. They now own record labels and sign talented youngsters to their labels and use them to popularize themselves. Listen to the typical Naija track and you will clearly hear the names of yahoo boys being mentioned and celebrated as role models. Our movies also showcase fraud as one of the ways of “blowing”. These are all subliminal messages to the target market, the young demographic and they decide to take up internet fraud as their vocation.
4. The lifestyle of high profile fraudsters
This takes us to the fourth reason why Nigeria is globally notorious for internet fraud; the lifestyle of high profile fraudsters. Nigerian high profile Yahoo yahoo boys showcase a larger than life image with the ostentatious display of ill-gotten wealth. After successfully scamming their victims, they turn to social media to showcase their lifestyle. They display flashy designer’s clothes, jewellery, expensive cars and automobiles, luxury houses, travels and tours, and they spice it up with bits of motivational quotes copied from internet pages and dole out cash as giveaways that pull traffic to their pages. They then party and hobnob with the rich and mighty, celebrities and high profile individuals and get validation and endorsement from them. They splash their photos everywhere online. This lifestyle makes them become automatic role models to young Nigerians who practically worship and adore them, and dream of ‘leaving the trenches’ too.
Ramon Abass aka Hushpuppi is a recent example of high profile fraudster who use social media to showcase their lifestyle and gain attention and followers. How many of the people looking up to Hushpuppi as a role model knew that he was actually an unrepentant fraudster who was into business compromise emails?
Invictus Obi is another fraudster who used social media and internet forums to pose as a legitimate and wealthy serial entrepreneur while unknown to his legions of admirers he was a serial internet fraudster. He even got listed on Forbes 30 under 30!
Ironically it was from their internet history that the US authorities used to build the cases against them that ultimately resulted in their arrest and subsequent imprisonment. So when the FBI bursts a Nigerian internet fraud syndicate and the news breaks on all major channels, the world watches and conclude that Nigeria is a notoriously fraudulent country.
5. A structured social system that enables fraud
Fifthly, Nigeria is considered a notorious hotbed of internet fraud because of the structured system set up to support online fraud. You might be shocked to read that in two popular states in the South-south region of Nigeria, parents buy laptops for their children and take them to Yahoo Yahoo kingpins to undergo an apprenticeship in internet fraud. There is even an association of mothers of yahoo boys!
In certain religious organizations where emphasis is placed on the material acquisition of wealth, members are coerced to donate huge sums of money to the organizations and their leaders. The highest donors are rewarded with awards, titles and positions of influence. This puts pressure on young people who are members of such organizations to also donate. In the long run, some of them resort to internet fraud to raise money for huge donations to the organization and to receive accolades.
This warm embrace of fraud by people who should know better demonstrates how low we have fallen. There is the trend of boys and young men undergoing apprenticeship programs in the so-called “House of Knowledge” where they are taught the rudiments of online fraud by the “Chairman” who serves as the recruiter and instructor. This trend is growing. The house of knowledge is located in different locations both within Nigeria and neighbouring countries. The boys pay various sums of money to an experienced fraudster who houses them in his house for weeks and trains them on how to defraud people on the internet. The boys living in the HK are treated like slaves who must work and make money for the chairman by defrauding others before graduating. They are barely given enough to eat and they can’t leave without serious repercussions, so they slave away. Such information published on credible media and other platforms further stereotypes Nigeria in the international circle as a hotbed of fraudsters. This desperation to make money by any means possible has destroyed the norms of our society.
6. Corrupt government and poor governance
The high-level corruption in government circles and the weak and inefficient institutions contribute to the notoriety of Nigeria for internet fraud. This is because if the internet fraudsters are ripping off online users, the government should be able to address the root cause of the problem and drastically reduce online fraud but the failing government officials are as corrupt as they come and the only difference between and yahoo boys is that they do not use laptops to scam foreigners. The theft of public funds by public officials is used as justification for fraud by the yahoo boys (This is still wrong). Public office holders steal humongous amount of monies and launder them overseas, when the news of their loots break, it further soils the already negative image and perception of Nigeria by the international community.
We can’t take the blame off the government out because the majority of the young internet fraudsters are students who should be studying in their different institutions but with incessant Asuu strikes, they are forced to stay at home for months and sometimes years. Many of them who are idle resort to online fraud to while the time away and make some money. So, poor governance is a big enabler of internet fraud.
In conclusion, there are many reasons why Nigeria is globally notorious for internet fraud. In this piece, I have tried to highlight some of the reasons why our image keeps dipping. There are solutions to this issue but that will be the subject for another piece.
Iniobong Leroi Umoh is a storyteller, a satirist and creative writer. He blurs the line between reality and fiction and seeks to create a connection with the reader through engaging content. His works have been featured across various online and offline platforms. He hopes to one day travel around the world on a luxury yacht, sipping expensive wine and documenting all his experiences in a journal.
You can send him a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.