Security alert: Cyber fraud on the rampage

Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is one of the most remarkable innovations in the 21st Century. In spite of the numerous benefits of ICT, the increasing trend of cyber fraud has now become a global challenge.

The Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), in its 2014 report, estimated that cyber crime costs the global economy more than $400 billion each year. A situation that poses threats to most nations.

In 2013, for example, the activities of Internet crime including, cyber espionage and fraud is believed to have affected more than 800 million people worldwide.

According to statistics from the Global Internet, Ghana is ranked second to Nigeria in Africa and seventh in the world in terms of online-related crimes.

Undoubtedly, this startling report does not project Ghana in the positive light. This is a clear indication that the spate of online crime leaves much to be desired.

Cyber fraud, popularly referred to as “sakawa” and sometimes tagged “419”, is a widespread practice which combines modern internet-based fraud with charms and other supernatural means to commit crime.

The term “419”, usually pronounced as four-one-nine, was derived from a section of Nigerian law that talks about fraud.

The Internet, as a modern tool of communication, plays a crucial role in both the professional and personal lives of many.

With this technology, one can execute many tasks conveniently at the click of a computer mouse. In fact, almost everything is now available online.

The Internet offers a variety of benefits in terms of communication, online education, information, research, financial transaction, online services, shopping, social networking, and many more.

Like the saying goes, “There are two sides to every coin”. Over the years, one of the greatest challenges bedeviling Internet technology is the infiltration of scammers.

This is because Internet crime has negative impact on trade between nations, competitiveness, innovation, and the global economy as a whole.

According to security intelligence, most cyber fraudsters are young unemployed people who reside in Kumasi, Tema and crowded suburbs of Greater Accra including Nima, Maamobi, Accra New Town and Mallam Atta.

Notably among their modes of operation are: online dating scams, business scams, lottery scams, impersonation, hacking, credit card / ATM theft, and many more.

I quite remember how I narrowly escaped one of such scams when I created a yahoo account in 2005. Apparently, I received an e-mail that I had won a whopping £1,000,000 online lottery.

Amazingly, I was naïve to believe that because I was new to the Internet. After a few correspondences, I was instructed to remit an amount of £500 to an agent for my claims.

I came to my right senses when a black-American, whom I consulted, drew my attention to the activities of cyber fraud. Like most victims, I would have fallen prey to the snare of Internet scams.
Harvesting e-mail addresses

Online fraudsters are cunning, witty, and smart criminals who “harvest” e-mail addresses from the Internet using special programmess such as WebBots (a group of programmes designed to gather information from the site).

Subsequently, they use foul means to extort huge sums of money from their innocent victims; mostly, citizens of US, UK, Germany, Australia, and other European countries.

A typical example is the popular Ghanaian fraudster, Maurice Asola Fadola, who extorted more than £800, 000 from British women through online dating. His outrageous scams left most of his victims penniless and some homeless.

Fadola is reported to have posed as an American Major-General serving in Iraq. He used flattery messages and poetry to swindle about 20 British widows and pensioners.

The con man was later busted, tried, and sentenced to a five-year jail term. Following his arrest, Maurice Fadola was unmasked as the world’s most prolific online dating fraudster.

One of his victims, a 71-year old widow, Katherine Clark, flew all the way from the UK to give evidence against Fadola during his trial in Ghana.
Some effects of cyber fraud

It is, therefore, not surprising that most US and Canadian merchants have resolved to block more than 70 per cent of online orders from Nigeria and Ghana due to high level of fraud in the two countries.

As a middle-income status country (MIC), the prevalence of cybercrime can affect the socio-economic development of Ghana in several ways, especially in terms of direct foreign investment, business transactions or trade, tourism, and security.

It is high time the government, in collaboration with the security agencies, took pragmatic measures to reduce the rate of cybercrime to the barest minimum.

This can be achieved by equipping the security apparatus with modern security gadgets and relevant logistics for tracking online crimes.

Meanwhile, plans to establish the proposed National Cyber Security Strategy to fight cybercrime in the country is long overdue.

It’s important for all and sundry to take precautionary measures, since most of us are addicted to the Internet. Let’s not hesitate to report suspicious fraudsters to the police promptly. Besides, security is everybody’s business.

I hope readers will find the following tips useful: disconnect your computer from the Internet when you’re offline; do not post sensitive information online; be wary of strangers and don’t trust everyone you find on the net.

Do not provide details of your bank account, ATM/ credit card and date of birth to “untrusted” persons; don’t send your portrait or nude pictures to strangers; ignore notification on lottery win, dating and crooked business offers.

Other security tips to note are: verify the identity of people you meet on social networking sites; consult IT experts for assistance; and lastly remember that the Internet is a public platform.

As we visit Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, Tango and other social media networks, let’s be wary of unscrupulous persons and “sakawa boys” who are scattered everywhere.

The Internet can be used for positive or sinister purposes, so let’s be vigilant and discerning users of this modern technology.
Tips to prevent cyber fraud

1. Disconnect your computer from the Internet when you’re offline.

2. Do not post sensitive information online; be wary of strangers and don’t trust everyone you find on the net.

3. Do not provide details of your bank account, ATM/ credit card and date of birth to “untrusted” persons.

4. Don’t send your portrait or nude pictures to strangers; ignore notification on lottery win, dating and crooked business offer.

5. Verify the identity of people you meet on social networking sites.