Nigeria: Menace of Yahoo Boys

23 August 2019
editorial

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has, in recent months, paraded over sixty young men and women suspected to have been engaged in scams by using the Internet. Popularly called 'Yahoo Boys,' the scammers have been picked up from North to South of the country.

In one of its press releases recently after an arrest of some Yahoo Boys in Ado Ekiti, the EFCC said, "The operation was sequel to a deluge of intelligence reports available to the Commission on their alleged fraudulent activities... Many people have fallen victim to the tricks of the suspects, who exploit their dexterity on the use of the internet to allegedly commit crime.Ranging between the ages of 18 and 27 years, 11 of the suspects claimed to be undergraduates, while others said they are self-employed in various vocations.Items recovered from them include eight exotic cars, laptops, mobile phones and several documents suspected to contain information used to access their victims."

The Yahoo Boys use Apps and software to alter their voices and location of their computers in the scheme to dupe persons they contact on social media and to hack into the bank details of their victims. In the UK, a scam ring, made up of 40 young and well-educated Nigerians, engaged in scams was exposed by security agencies. The Mail Online, a UK-based newspaper, reported that "often the sons of influential Nigerians, including police chiefs and politicians [were involved in the crime], meaning they are never prosecuted if caught in their home country [Nigeria]... " The young men were found to have used cloning Apps from Google Play to change their voice and appearance so they could disguise their identity even when they made video calls. This way, they convinced they preys and subsequently defraud them of huge sums of money.

In order to curb the menace of Yahoo Boys, Nigeria has enacted the Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, etc) Act of 2015. The law is very comprehensive, prescribing severe punishment for identity theft and impersonation, the two devices of Internet scammers. It prescribes seven years in jail or N5 million fine or both, as the penalty for anyone who is convicted of impersonation to defraud any person.

Internet scam has persisted in spite of this legal instrument primarily because cybersecurity has not been prioritized. Many Nigerians are unaware of the schemes of these fraudsters, hence they fall for fake promises and proposals from Yahoo Boys on social media. For instance, they attract rich, single women with love advances, proposing to marry them or take them to exotic places for romance. Also, many aspiring entrepreneurs fall prey to their lucrative business proposals, which ordinarily would look too good to be true.

Worse of all is the fact that staff members of financial institutions have been found to belong to the network of Yahoo Boys, providing them with financial information which the criminals use to steal money from bank accounts. This is very unfortunate, because the intangible commodity that sustains financial institutions is 'trust.' Increasingly, exploits by Yahoo Boys is sowing the seed of doubt among Nigerians about the integrity of the banking industry.This is not good for the economy.

We call on security agencies to acquire relevant gadgets that would enable them to monitor the activities of these criminals. For instance, it will not be out of place for the police to have a unit that would monitor unusual transactions within and outside Nigeria. At the moment, only the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) has that capacity. But with the preponderance of financial cyber scams, it has become important for the police to acquire the technology to track illicit financial transactions. Also, financial institutions must tighten their digital security measures so that internal collusions can be quickly tracked and aborted. On their part, parents should teach their children and wards to avoid get-rich-quick syndrome, which is responsible for the dangerous growth of cybercrime in Nigeria.

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