When the Internet became widely available in Ghana in the early 2000s and Ghanaians finally went online en masse, they bumped up against firmly established rules of Internet conduct. Unable to fulfill their hope of connecting with others around the world and traveling, Ghana’s residents found a different way to profit from technology: Internet scamming. Today, it is a booming underground industry.
This is the story that Jenna Burrell, an associate professor at the UC Berkeley School of Information, described in an article about her 2012 book, Invisible Users: Youth in the Internet Cafes of Urban Ghana. According to Burrell, Ghanaians most often approach potential victims with the “419” email scheme, or via Internet dating sites. However, investigators warn that 419 and other email spam is becoming a thing of the past. Ghana scams have become far more sophisticated and complex. As Ghanaians’ tactics have evolved, they’ve learned that Skype, social media and accomplices offer a clear path to money from afar.
If you receive an email from anyone in Ghana, be on guard, and do not share your bank account details or other personal information for any reason. In most cases, these scam attempts are easy to detect.
More Complex Scams Evolve
A Ghana criminal conducting internet fraud today may never even mention Ghana, until the damage is done. Ghana scammers target victims on social networking sites, online dating sites, professional networking sites, via email, and instant messaging platforms. If you use the internet, you could be targeted, one way or another, by a criminal in Ghana who has an internet connection and some basic knowledge.
Experienced scammers will assume the identity of a real person, and use all the data and photos from a social networking site such as Facebook or Linkedin, for example. Next, he will use a proxy server to conceal his location and Skype to obtain a local phone number. So, when you meet this new business or personal contact online, you’re smart, so you choose to check this person out. When do, you find that this person exists, and all his information checks out. You even traced his IP address and see he is from New York, and has a New York phone number! Your detective work proves this person exists, right? Wrong!
Where Most Victims Go Wrong
Most victims say he or she never asked for money at the beginning, and he was using a local number, or said he was from London, and had a U.K. phone number, etc. Everything checked out online when you did you research. Scammers now use Skype and the internet to appear anywhere in the world.
Some victims say the scammer never asked for money at all. In these cases, criminals will slowly gain your trust and gather your personal data to steal your identity and money. Or, your online partner may get some indecent photos or video of you, and then blackmail you with it! It’s easy to be a victim.
Victims often say they have even chatted with the person on webcam, so they know the person exists! Wrong again. Internet criminals are increasingly using recorded video feeds to appear to be the actual person, and in some cases even models (criminal accomplices) are used to sit in for short chat. To make sure you’re chatting with a real person on webcam, always ask the person to raise their right hand, turnaround, etc. Never share an intimate photo or video that may could be used against use. Blackmail is all too common.
Many people who have been scammed often ask themselves how they became a target, or how the criminal knew so much about them. Investigators say 90% of the time, the damage results from sharing too much information online, whether it is through a social networking profile like Facebook or an online dating site like Match.com. Protect your privacy because the less you share, the safer you are.
Online Dating Sites Targeted
Online dating sites are another of Ghana’s Internet cash cows. Polished, engaging profiles fool enough people that the United States Embassy in Accra, Ghana’s website includes a list of signs that you might be the target of an Internet romance scam. Among these include repeated references to ill family members, or immigration officials wanting payments or bribes. If you use online dating, there are some key tips for stearing clear of fraudulent “sweethearts.” Never send money to anyone you’ve never met.
Remember that any money sent via bank wire or Western Union is likely not recoverable in the event of fraud. When you send money to a certain name, this does not mean the person exists. In fact, some Western Union agents pay out money without checking ID, especially in West Africa.
Think your profile is great and will get a lot of attention? You might be right! Be skeptical of the perfect match who comes along so quickly and easily. Internet criminals in Ghana often create the perfect profile based on your profile – to be exactly what you’re looking for – and draw you in.
Skype Accounts Add to Risk
As if watching your back online wasn’t enough, now you have to beware of con artists targeting you through Skype, too. Online scammers take their time in developing a relationship with you—and the same is true of Skype scammers. According to the New York Times blog The New Old Age, a Portland, Oregon woman “drained her I.R.A.”, sending money to Ghana to help a man pretending to be a United States soldier who had contacted her via Skype. The man said that he needed to ship belongings to a United States address, and even wore an army uniform. Military scams are growing problem worldwide.
Skype is also a commonly used tool by criminals to appear in any global location. Looking for a man in Montana? Trying to hire someone in South Carolina? A Ghana scammer can create the perfect profile and perfect resume, and have the local number and address to match.
If you’ve met someone online, consider a dating background check, and if you’re asked to send money anywhere, don’t. Consult a professional private investigator to verify the facts.
© 2014 Wymoo International
© Copyright 2014 Wymoo International. All Rights Reserved. This content is the property of Wymoo International, LLC and is protected by United States and international copyright laws.