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Tuesday, 23 April, 2002, 11:00 GMT 12:00 UK
Nigeria grapples with e-mail scams
Internet cafe in Lagos
Cyber-cafes have proliferated in Lagos
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By the BBC's Sam Olukoya

Nigerian fraudsters who dupe people around the world by writing scam letters have invaded cyberspace.

The fraudsters send the phoney e-mails mainly to Europe and the United States.

The fraudsters have now discarded conventional letters for e-mails

Deji Olajide, computer scientist
Posing as senior Nigerian government officials, they seek the assistance of people abroad to transfer huge sums of money into foreign bank accounts.

Most often they say the money is the proceeds of an over-invoiced contracts, which is up for grabs once it is transferred abroad.

The deal is for their intended victim to facilitate the transfer of the money into a foreign bank account in return for millions of dollars.

Gullible and greedy people easily fall for this bait. The fraudsters dupe their victims by collecting advance fees from them under the guise of paying kickbacks and service charges needed to transfer the money abroad.

They keep collecting money, using different excuses until the victims realize they are being duped.

Cheap thrills

The advent of e-mail has made things easier for criminals.

"The fraudsters have now discarded conventional letters for e-mails because e-mail is faster and cheaper," says Deji Olajide, a Lagos based computer scientist.

Sign outside an internet cafe in Lagos
But do they mean it?

Nigerian cyber-cafes charge an average of around $1 an hour.

"Because of the obvious advantage of the e-mail over the conventional letters, cyber-cafes have become post offices for the fraudsters," says Mr Olajide

The relative ease by which scam letters can now be sent abroad has attracted thousands of unemployed men, especially in cities like Lagos and Abuja to the trade.

"They spend a better part of the day in cyber-cafes sending scam letters abroad," says Mr Olajide. The letters are usually sent from free internet email accounts like Hotmail and Yahoo.

The managing director of a local Internet Service Provider (ISP) told the Lagos-based Daily Times newspaper that 60% of those who opened free email accounts in his cyber-cafes did so for fraudulent activities.

Sometimes the fraudsters sound genuine but for the address they use.

Jeffrey Myer, director of an Australian company awaiting payment for a contract he did for the Nigerian Government, got one such mail from a crook who opened a hotmail account in the name of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN.

The crook, who claimed to be the governor of the CBN, offered to assist Mr Myer get his money.

Most of the cafes look the other way

Bode Oluwafemi

The confused Australian wrote to a Nigerian newspaper for clarification.

"I can't decide if this is the type of address that would be officially used by the CBN. I really would have thought the CBN would have their Nigerian ISP and website and not be using hotmail in the USA." he said.

Alarmed at the rate its network was used for sending scam letters, SIOtel, a local ISP, carried out in a full-page newspaper advert entitled "No to fraud on the internet."

"We view with serious concern the increasing rate at which fraudulent business letters are being sent out through our net work to foreigners," SIOtel said.

Part of the company's anger was directed at cyber-cafes using its services. Many are known to condone the activities of the fraudsters because of the huge profit they make from their patronage.

Waging war

All cyber-cafes carry notices warnings their customers against sending scam e-mails.

But Bode Oluwafemi, who once fell victim to the fraudsters says: "Most of the cafes look the other way when the fraudsters are sending scam mails."

Outside an internet cafe in Lagos
Fraudster paradise

For months, fraudsters used Mr Olajide's e-mail box to send scam letters without his knowledge.

He believes the fraudsters did this with the connivance of the owners of a cyber-cafe he patronizes.

With the scam growing, police have been raiding suspected internet cafes to confiscate their computers and arrest the fraudsters.

On its part, the Nigerian Government has inaugurated a national committee to wage war against the fraudsters.

It remains to be seen whether the government will win the war.

See also:

05 Dec 98 | Middle East
Internet scam offers millions
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