Yahoo boys and the upsurge in other Christmas crimes

By Casmir Igbokwe

Published: Sunday, 9 Dec 2007

I was almost taken in by the antics of the criminals. The message was supposedly from MTN. And it reads: “Yello! Congratulation. U have won N1million, Ur code is 1835Z. Please call MTN staff Remi on 07035837778 now for your bank wire details. MTN MOVING YOU AHEAD.”

I must confess that I am out of touch with the current crime strategies in the country. And so, when I got the above message on my mobile phone, I was happy. I immediately started planning with my wife what to do with the N1m. We almost quarrelled about where to channel the money. That was before I dialled the number I was asked to call. The number rang and a male voice picked the call: “What is your name and where are you calling from?”

Alarm signals registered in my brain immediately. Why was this character after my name and where I was calling? I wondered. I simply mentioned the text message I got, to which he replied, “Call 185 immediately so that you will be among the first few beneficiaries.” I dialled the number, but a computer voice welcomed me to one of MTN‘s departments (I am not too sure of the department again.) According to the voice, the department works Monday to Friday, 8.00am to 5.00pm and does not work on weekends. This was on a Saturday. So, I stopped my search here as my instinct told me that this was a clear-cut fraud.

Last Thursday, I attended a dinner hosted by the Deputy British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Richard Powell. During informal discussions, people expressed concern at the persistent incidents of scams in Nigeria. Somebody even jokingly said that Lagos Island was the forgery capital of the world. There, people could forge anything from international passports to all sorts of certificates.

In spite of warnings and public enlightenment campaigns, people still fall victim to Advance Fee Fraud. An official of the Deputy High Commission told me the story of a blind old British woman who fell into the trap of fraudsters recently. They lured her to Nigeria with a proposal to buy a hotel and duped her of £80,000 (about N20m).

Swindlers are also not relenting in bombarding people’s email addresses with scam mails. I get not less than 10 of such emails everyday. I have got business deals from different quarters, including the widow of Jonas Savimbi of Angola. One particular mail entitled, “Universal International Lottery SA” congratulated me on winning $950,000.00. My email address, the criminals noted, was among those chosen this quarter from their new java-based software that randomly selects email addresses from the web. The promoters even magnanimously pleaded that because of Internet lottery scams, “You must quote your security code (ZA-184/08) so that the scammers will not be able to get your winning information.” I have also won lotteries from the BMW Group, Shell Foundation and Microsoft. Fools!

Besides the Yahoo boys, there is an upsurge in other criminal activities. For instance, there are people who sell expired rice in the market today. Last week, the Inspector-General of Police, Mike Okiro, paraded eight suspected expired rice dealers in Abuja. The suspects were accused of re-branding N8m worth of expired rice into Mama Gold, Mama Africa, Mama Royal and some other bags.

Thugs and sundry task forces have their own operational tactics. Some pedestrian bridges in Lagos, especially the one at Cele Bus-stop on Oshodi/Apapa Road, have become money-spinners for many of them. Recently, they arrested as many people as they could and took them to the Isolo Local Government Headquarters in Lagos. They claimed that the captives crossed the road without using the footbridge. Some of the culprits pleaded innocent, but the local government officials would hear none of that. They dumped all of them in a cell in the local government.

To bail any of the detainees was N5,000. To bail a student was N3,500. Those, whose relatives delayed in bringing this money found themselves later in a small cell at Isolo Police Station. There, their captors constantly reminded them of a court action if they delayed further in making their payment. I came to bail somebody, but the officials insisted on N5,000. I refused to pay. As dusk approached, somebody else came to bail the same person with N2,000. There was another N200 payment. They called that one counter fee. It‘s supposed to be N500. But the woman who paid the money bargained well. There was no receipt for these payments. And don‘t ask me who keeps this cash. Perhaps, it‘s for the development of the local government.

It is unfortunate that all that some Nigerians think about is how to out-fox and out-rob their neighbours. The market woman sells her tomato to the unwary customer at more than 200 per cent increase. The auto parts dealer gives you fake parts at exorbitant prices. The office secretary exploits any loophole to steal his manager‘s money. Recently, a friend and businessman, Jude Igwe, lost N500,000 to his sales assistant. The girl absconded with the money and has not been seen since then. Armed robbers, on their part, terrorise and, sometimes, kill their victims. These days, they spare nobody. The recent killing of a four-year-old girl, among others, at Iju area of Lagos is a typical case.

It has become a worrisome trend that crime rate must rise towards the end of every year. Some analysts attribute this to Christmas and end-of-year festivities. Some wives, they argue, make enormous demands on their husbands. Children want new clothes and shoes. Girlfriends want the latest jewellery in town. Some want to travel to the village at all cost to show that they have arrived. This is a period breadwinners face serious financial pressure from many quarters.

But this excuse flies in the face of reason. It is the proclivity to live above our income, to live a fake life that pushes some of us into crime. That is what is prodding the Yahoo boys. That is what is behind the fake MTN boys’ scheming. And that is why robbers will not let us have peace of mind. The police who should be hunting these bandits have themselves become the hunted. A number of them have died in the line of duty. Now, they appear helpless and unsure of what to do to stem the upsurge in crime.

As a first step to solving the problem, perhaps, President Umaru Yar‘Adua has approached Britain for succour. He does not seem to know where the help should be channelled. Any help, the President reportedly said, would do. While we await the British intervention, may I suggest that the police or the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission should help me collect my N1m from the MTN boys. They can take 10 per cent of the money.

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