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• Scammers expand frontiers of crime
By Henry Umahi, [email protected]
Can anyone believe this? Nigerian scammers sold a fake airport to a major international bank for $242million. It sounds like tales by the moonlight but it is true. Reported to be the third biggest fraud in the history of banking, it brought a measure of glamour to fraud artistry, as someone noted. It took three years to uncover the scam.
Indeed, the scope of fraud is expanding all the time, as sundry criminals become more elaborate. Over the years, in Nigeria, the sharp guys have proved that the possibilities are seemingly endless. In most cases, it is the greed in people that make them vulnerable to be duped.
A telecommunication company recently warned its customers thus: “Our attention has been drawn to messages, notifying customers of the use of WhatsApp without Internet. Kindly ignore and do not click on those links, as it redirects to cloned applications that may be used to harvest sensitive information from your device. Be cautious.”
In the same vein, the Commissioner of Police, Kwara State Command, Olusola Amore, warned that Internet fraudsters had taken their act to a new level in swindling unsuspecting members of the public.
In a statement by the police boss, the command’s Public Relations Officer, Olasanmi Ajayi, remarked that fraudsters resorted to the new strategy because the era of sending out text messages to people, claiming that their Bank Verification Number (BVN) had been deactivated had become obsolete.
Throwing light on how the new strategy works, he disclosed that the scammers send e-mails to people, purporting that it came from their bank. In the e-mail, the scammers would tell their victims that the sum of N7, 000 or more, being the subscription fee for the bank’s monthly digest magazine, had been debited from their account, adding that the deduction would be effected monthly. The catch is, if the account holder wishes to unsubscribe, he should click on a link provided. And when that happens, the story will begin to twist.
According to Amore, “once the link is clicked on, a page will open where the bank details and Automated Teller Machine (ATM) information of the victim is required. If the information is provided, they are able to gain access into the victim’s personal account.”
He added that the command was “using this medium to alert members of the public on this new scam method so as to guide against falling victim.”
But many have fallen victim of both the new and old strategies of the Internet fraudsters. A Port Harcourt-based journalist, who chose not to be named, told the reporter that his wife was scammed of N100, 000 last February.
He said: “My wife was swindled of the N100, 000 in her account. What happened was that she got a message from the fraudsters and responded, thinking that she was communicating with her bank. So, they gave her a link, which she clicked on and provided the information needed. They simply cleaned her account. It was when she received debit alerts that she knew she had been scammed. I was very disappointed in her and I am sure that there are other victims like her.”
On March 27, the reporter got a message from 08109078011, saying (unedited): “Dear customer due to our Bvn new system upgrade, your ATM CARD has just been de-activated to re-activate, kindly call customer care 09067126676.”
While writing this report, on April 10, the reporter called the so-called customer care at about 12noon and told the person on the other side that he was calling in respect of his de-activated ATM card. The ‘customer care’ officer, who introduced himself as Ben Okoro, expressed his apologies for the inconvenience. Later, he asked about the expiry date of the de-activated ATM card and the serial number on it. When the reporter started reeling out the pin numbers on a used recharge card, Okoro thundered: “Which card is that? Is that a Master card or a Visa card?” Then he terminated the call, apparently realising that he was being fooled. Meanwhile, the voice of a baby, crying was heard in the background. Perhaps, his residence also serves as ‘customer care’ office.
Ponzi schemes have become a permanent feature of the fraud industry in Nigeria, so to say. New schemes are springing up all the time, offering mouthwatering incentives on ‘investments’. But only the nomenclatures are different, but the objective is the same: To swindle unsuspecting investors.
Indeed, many Nigerians have had their fingers burnt, as their ‘investments’ in such schemes as the MMM and Cash Flow remain trapped. Some victims have committed suicide. Some have become depressed and debilitated. Yet, others are languishing in jail as a result of their involvement in the scheme.
Take the case of Gloria Samson, a 34-year old mother of two. She was one of those who took the easy way out, having ‘invested’ all they had without the possibility of recouping their ‘investments’. According to a report, she “drowned herself in River Benue where her body was discovered by police on January 2, 2017. It was alleged that she committed suicide due to the crash of MMM, having invested a N.4million loan she procured from various places in town.”
A national youth service corps member of the 2016 Batch B is currently cooling his heels at the Kirikiri Medium Prisons in Apapa, Lagos, for ‘investing’ N3.5 million, belonging to the company where he was serving (Place of Primary Assignment) in MMM and Twinkas ponzi schemes and it failed.
A source said: “The young man had hoped to make a quick profit at the end of his service only to end up disappointed. His employers wasted no time in inviting the police into the matter after he failed to return the money. His plight was made public by a colleague, a lawyer, who missed the last community development service (CDS) and took advantage of the group’s WhatsApp platform to explain his absence.”
It was learnt that he was brutalised at the police station where he was initially detained and he remains in prison, pending the perfection of his bail conditions.
Apparently to curtail the excesses of the operators of such schemes in the country, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently disclosed that it had sealed the premises of an “investment company” over alleged Ponzi operations.
In a statement, SEC said it closed the place to put a stop to unlawful activities of the company. “Investments in the scheme range from a minimum deposit of N10,000 to a maximum deposit of N24,000. The investment period of the scheme is pegged at a minimum of 30 working days to a maximum period of 10 months with offer of interest rates on short and medium term basis.
“The company promises a daily profit depending on the category of investment. Furthermore, it was discovered that contrary to their supposed existence in over 20 locations across the country, the company only has functional offices in Asaba, Kano and Abuja.
“The promoters of these illegal operations have been arrested by the Nigeria Police Force and are undergoing interrogation. The Commission wishes to notify the investing public that the company is not licensed to carry out investments business of any type and as such its operations are illegal.”
Interestingly, some groups, including professional and religious organisations, are not encouraging their members to invest in ponzi schemes. Listen to the General Overseer, Royal Church Ministries (RCM), Lagos, Dr. Success Ibeakanma: “The truth is that I cannot encourage my members to invest in any Ponzi scheme no matter what it is called. For instance, the MMM helped some people but it gave more people pain. Those who were smiling in the beginning are now weeping because they deceived them and brought them closer before hitting them below the belt, so to say. They gave their victims peanuts and took hefty sums from them. I see it as 419; it’s fraud. They are swindling people; it is total fraud.”
Ibeakanma further said: “I know someone who took six million naira from the bank, invested it in MMM and lost everything. He has been coming to me to help him and I told him that I could not help him. When he put the money there, he did not tell me; it is now that he has run into problem that he remembered me. There is another person who sold something and told me he would use the proceeds to buy another thing. Each time I asked him if he had bought the thing, he would say that he would buy it that day. I didn’t know he went and put everything in MMM. Anytime I see him, he will appear to be sick. I asked him what was the problem. One day, someone told me that he threw his money into MMM. I asked him after sometime and he confirmed that he put the money into MMM, adding that he was afraid to tell me what happened. Now he is paying dearly for it. I don’t support such schemes because they are fraud.
“Pastors should help their members to open their eyes. If they keep quiet because they bring a few naira notes, the same people will hate you when the problem comes because they know you know and you refuse to tell them. So, it is the duty of pastors to open their eyes. If every pastor will do it, very soon everybody will be educated on the activities of such fraudsters.”
Fraudsters are also diversifying by becoming serial grooms. Investigation revealed that they are usually fine boys, smooth operators and they dress to kill.
This how it works: First, they operate under different aliases. They lure rich ladies into marriages, romp with them, clean their accounts and then run away while changing their SIM cards. Sometimes, they run out of the country, telling their ‘wives’ that they are exploring investment opportunities for the ‘family.’ Later, they slip into the country and start looking for other victims.
Their mode of operation is to tell their victims that their parents were dead. In fact, they would manufacture stories that would make the victims accept wedding plans with hired ‘uncles and aunts’ known as city fathers and mothers.
A source disclosed: “There are men and women you can hire to play the roles of fathers and mothers or relations on occasions. They are old and experienced, so they give you what you want. And except that you are an insider, you won’t know that they were hired to act the part. You can hire them for as little as N10,000 or less to do your bidding. Of course, you pay more if you are taking them outside Lagos. Many of them are available at Ajegunle and Surulere areas of Lagos.
Nkechinyere narrated her experience to the reporter. “A friend of mine at school invited me to the traditional marriage of her elder sister in Lagos in March. When I got there, I got the shock of my life, as the groom was my aunt’s husband said to be in South Africa. I quickly called my aunt and she rushed to the place. You can imagine what happened that day. We later learnt that my aunt was about his 12th wife in seven years.”
Investigation revealed that in many cases, the serial husbands are younger that their ‘wives.’
Said Samuel: “When my elder sister introduced one boy as her fiancé, I took it with a pinch of salt. I didn’t know how she agreed to marry a boy several years her junior but I couldn’t complain because age was no longer on her side. My sister paid for virtually everything and the boy started living with her in her house. She even bought a car for him and he used it to rock small girls. When he finished her savings, he walked out on the marriage. Unfortunately, they had no children after living together for about two years. My sister almost died because he stylishly took all she laboured for in a bank for over 20 years. We later got to know that my sister was his third wife and he is about 35 years old.”
It was also gathered that ladies are also doing the business of trading in husbands. They lure rich men into marriages and walk away at the slightest misunderstanding, which are mostly stage-managed. And that is after they had made enough material gain from the relationship.
“When they feel that they had had enough of the man or that he has nothing materially to offer anymore, they begin to raise all manner of issues to justify leaving the ‘marriage’. They sell their expensive engagement and marriage rings immediately they walk away. Some of them just leave the house when the man is not around. I know about four ladies in their early 40s, who have married not less than six times each. For them, marriage is just to dupe men and move on,” Ngozi volunteered.
Cloning of telephone numbers of high net worth people and using same to dupe is also part of the new tricks in circulation. The fraudsters use the cloned numbers to instruct unsuspecting victims to make certain payments into certain accounts or to solicit for favour.
Fraudsters are also developing new tricks to fleece victims on online dating. Singletons that sign up to online dating sites in the hope of discarding the robe of loneliness are increasingly being targeted by scammers.
Last week, a 27-year old man, Moses, was arrested in Lagos for allegedly threatening to circulate the nude photos of his 60-year old Internet lover if she fails to give him N1million. A source disclosed: “They were always talking on the telephone, making video calls and having video romance and video sex. The woman was, however, unaware that he was storing the information in his phone.”
He later threatened to make the footages to go viral if she didn’t cooperate with him. For effect, he sent some of her nude pictures to her.
Sophie Christie said: “Someone you have started to develop a relationship with online might first ask for money for travel costs, or say they have lost their plane ticket so need to borrow some cash for a new one. They might say a family member is ill and they need funds for urgent medical treatment.”
In some cases, the victims are drugged, robbed and/or killed.
Spiritual cleansing is still ongoing whereby fake prophecies are made and victims conned to buy spiritual materials for the work.