African scams develop with technology

So-called 419 schemes get more complicated and embrace social media


In the 1990s, Africa's richest countries in terms of income Nigeria and Zaire -- had dictators who were pushed out of power, leading to an international publicity movement to freeze international bank accounts of their families and friends.

The fight to freeze accounts related with former Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha and former Zaire dictator Mobutu Sese Seko led to the birth of Internet scammers, posing as family members with millions of dollars to hide from the authorities.
The scam, commonly known as "advance fee fraud," has developed with technological development to include phishing scams -- which use fake sites -- and keyloggers at cybercafés that steal e-mail login details and send distress calls to contacts.
The scams have also developed to include social-networking sites and mobile-phone technology, and are taking benefit of global events such as the upcoming FIFA World Cup in South Africa.
"As ICTs [became] more complicated, advance fee scams developed to take advantage of new mediums such as instant messaging and online social networks (Facebook, LinkedIn, Ning), and in the process became the global occurrence today," said Bill Zimmerman, CEO and founder of Limbelabs in Cameroon.
In the before time scam messages, an e-mail would be sent introducing the sender as the wife/son/daughter or close family member of a former ruling family but would command "an advance fee" before starting the transaction. In other e-mail, the contact would claim to have been awarded a enormous government mining contract and would request the "investor" to the country, where they would meet with fake government officials.
Nigeria is maybe the best-known African country where advance-fee-fraud scams start off. Indeed, the scams are known as 419 scams, after section 419 of the Nigerian penal code, which prohibits the crime.
"It's usually accepted that the 419 scams originated in Nigeria, and there is a growing insight that the miscreants involved have now started relocating to neighboring countries," said Steve Santorelli, director of Global Outreach at Team Cymru, an Internet security research firm.
Last year, Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) instituted a forbid on nighttime Web browsing in public places, conducted raids on cybercafés in Lagos and other cities, and succeeded in making some highly exposed arrests, but the problem has not been fully stamped out.

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