Ghana and Nigeria are becoming synonymous with Internet fraud as a Google search reveals. Last month, in a town hall meeting in New York with the Vice President His Excellency John Dramani Mahama, I raised the serious problem of Internet fraud in Ghana. While his response showed that the government was trying to solve the problem, but also showed that most Ghanaians were not aware of how sophisticated this crime had become.
Yet the idea persists that most foreigners being ripped off on internet fraud scams – also called 419 or Sakawa – greedy people are eager to quick riches. This is no longer the case. Criminals no longer send emails that cheap that someone has died in a plane crash has left millions of dollars or the child of a deceased African dictator with millions hidden is willing to transfer the money in the bank account of a foreigner one party. Con artists know that foreigners are no longer for this type of financial scams. Therefore, more sophisticated varieties.
An Indian company that makes bags of cocoa and has a website receives an “offer” of the Cocoa Marketing Company (Gh) Ltd (CMC) on the official letterhead of the supply of 200,000 bags of Ghana’s cocoa. Its marketing manager calls the number on the letterhead and received by someone impersonating an officer of the CMC. Then comes another looking for fraudulent documents, but official until the Indian company is convinced that the transaction is genuine. This is followed by demands for various positions at various agencies in Ghana, all backed by official looking but fake receipts. Thieves inviting the company to send a representative to Ghana to sign the formal contract. The representative of Ghana arrives only to be picked up by the thieves to his hotel and, finally, fleeced of more money. I know because communication by e-mail I received from one of those victims.
A retiree in the U.S. alone who just lost his wife goes to a dating site on the Internet as match.com and befriends one Thai nurse who is spending time in children in Ghana to help in an orphanage. The image of the retiree saw was actually a picture of a person cut out of the Internet and is used in the scam. Mrs. hopes to visit in the U.S. and starts demanding money for a plane ticket and to secure a U.S. visa. On the day of departure Ghana Immigration would not let him board the plane because I had to take some money into it. Any questions are answered with an official letter from the Ghana Immigration Service. Anyone who doubts this should go to the website of the Ghana Immigration Service and see a flag to warn people of this crime. The woman said the retiree who was bringing a little gold with her to the U.S. and was arrested for not paying taxes on that amount. Mr. Retirees would send their money to pay police and pay the tax so that she can return when you sell gold in the U.S.? This scam is again supported by forged documents, a false passport, a U.S. visa fraud, a fake letter from the Ghana Immigration Service, a fake letter from the Internal Revenue Service and the Ghana Police. Some of these criminals who steal from their colleagues and have their passports and identification documents of people from other countries like the Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia, etc. for use in these individuals impersonating the Sakawa 419 or fraud. I know because I’ve seen some of these documents.
The range of official documents, but fraudulent used in these programs ran the gamut and supposedly comes from the ministries, courts, parliament, police and customs.
As part of its quest to become a middle income country in the near future, Ghana has opened its doors to international trade and investment, which is working directly weakened by the number of fraudulent documents to leave the country. There is also the tragic aspect of these scams on the Internet lead to many victims of despair, debt and bankruptcy and others to take their own lives.
Last year, a Briton, Philip Hunt, who suffered from depression and had had two failed marriages, took his own life in front of a moving train after being cheated out of £ 82,000 for a romantic con man named “Rose” Nigeria. Also last year, a father of Al Circelli, of Yonkers, New York was shot in the head after he stole $ 50,000 by a romance scammer Internet Ghana who called Aisha.
These scams do nothing for the image of Ghana as a desirable tourist destination. I think only a minority of these frauds are perpetrated by Ghanaians. Letterhead reading “Federal Republic of Ghana,” the signatories and Chinedu Eke, gives a good idea that these scammers origin. These foreigners have settled in Ghana because most victims do not respond to e-mail scam from their countries of origin. Unless Ghana do something soon, we risk being rejected by the international community.
Combating Internet Crime in Ghana should not be difficult if the government concentrates on the main facilitators – most of them is Western Union and its lax system of money transfer. And to think that in this day and age of international money laundering and terrorist financing, nobody, not even a fake name and identity can enter a Western Union office or its affiliates and collect several thousand dollars with minimal logging is negligent, to say the least. Government should demand that henceforth no one collecting more than $ 1,000 in money transfer Western Union shall provide a driver’s license or passport and in cases of very large sums should be digitally photographed and save the image of the company and put available at the request of the law.
Some of the victims of cyber crime have lost money through wire transfers. It seems that some banks in Ghana are negligent in opening accounts or some of its officials have colluded with these criminals to deceive foreigners. The government should enforce tougher standards for banks and which shows that Bank staff have assisted in Internet fraud facilitating the opening of fraudulent accounts, they should be prosecuted.
Government should vigorously pursue the existing SIM card registration exercise and eliminate all the numbers registered fraudulently. These scammers use cell phones that are registered or fraudulently registered or registered to others. Once the SIM card exercise is done correctly and all cellular calls can be traced to particular individuals, cyber-criminals can be quickly located and arrested by police.
Institutionally, the Ghana Police Service and must have an Internet unit of effective crime and well trained to carry out covert operations and to pursue and apprehend these criminals. The website of Ghana Police Service should have a banner in bold on the home page with an Internet address and a phone number to anyone who you think you are being ripped off on contact. The cyber crime unit will work with the victim to establish cyber criminals in an undercover operation in Ghana and arrest them. Many victims have told me in touch with the Ghana Police, but received no response or cooperation.
Most cyber criminals use Internet cafes. The government should seriously consider Internet cafes license – if you do not already – and requires them to ensure their computers are not used for 419 scam or Sakawa. There are stories repeated cyber criminals engaged in equipment rental internet cafes for days with the owners aware of, but turns a blind eye to their activities.
Last year when I was at home in Ghana, with my family, I went to an internet cafe with my wife for example. Upon entering, just in front of me and a team facing the Internet cafe owner was a man who had cut the image of an Asian woman over the internet and was using software to pose in front of a photograph of the Plaza de Independence of Ghana. Immediately, intentionally told my wife and sight of the man who was changing the image for use in an Internet scam. At this point, the man became very nervous and in a short time left in the cafeteria.
It is expected that the government acts on these recommendations and, finally, derives the title of this insidious crime is rapidly eroding the image of Ghana.