Nigeria has been on the map of online fraud for a long time, almost as long as the Internet has been available to us. The stories about a Nigerian prince who needed help or the wealthy man whose last wish was to give his fortune to a long distant relative are now part of the past. Investigators in Ghana and detectives in Nigeria say that criminals have evolved their “way of doing business”, and every day the cases of fraud online have become more and more complex. If you think it couldn’t happen to you, you’re wrong. Even the most tech savvy and skeptical internet users have been duped out of serious amounts of money. In extreme cases, the online saga has even ended much more serious crimes, such as abduction or murder.
During the course of these years, Ghana has become one of the leaders of internet fraud, especially when it comes to online dating scams. Even Tripadvisor issued a warning about Ghana! But even though many organizations and members of the media keep sending warnings to alert people, scams originating in West Africa continue to be a major threat, and the victims are only increasing. Why is it, that even with more awareness, and increased education about the risk for these scams, that victims and losses are increasing? The answer to that question is simple, but often overlooked.
One of the basic things that needs to be understood is that online criminals take their “profession” seriously. Every day new schemes are created by con artists to catch their prey, and to discover the scam is more difficult than what most people think.
Of course most of the fraudsters know that the sole mention of Nigeria or Ghana scares people away. All the alerts and warnings have not been in vain, and people have started to recognize West Africa as high risk region for fraud. That is why in most modern scam schemes, fraudsters tell their victims they are from another country, and put a lot of effort in gaining the victim´s trust. Once the victim has fallen in the trap, the country has no relevance whatsoever. After all, in a globalized world it is not uncommon that people travel for work, business or education, and both Ghana and Nigeria attract many foreigners to their countries for the reasons mentioned. Many victims of Nigerian and Ghana scams never even hear the country mentioned. West Africa crime has evolved to the point where it is organized crime, with accomplices in countries like the U.S. or the U.K., who often are in these countries illegally. They in turn assume real identities, use local phone numbers and addresses, and so on. So when you try to verify your new contact from the U.K. or U.S., for example, everything seems to check out. Little do you know that you’re communicating with a criminal.
Maybe you would never send money to anyone you’ve never met in person? Maybe you’re dealing with business contacts only, and don’t do online dating or social media? You might be surprised to learn that many victims of these crimes fit that profile as well. The fact is, if you use the internet, you can be a victim. Many fake websites exist to target users, and West African criminals can pose as nearly anyone or any company, with the goal to get your data, steal your identity or even blackmail you. They have adapted, and criminals today are known for their creativity.
Another important reason why Nigeria and Ghana scams will continue to be a threat is that as long as there is inequality –as long as people from developed countries like the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom or Canada have many times greater incomes as Nigeria or Ghana- there will be criminals trying to take advantage of the situation. No one is immune from fraud, but the truth is that being from a certain place increases the chances of finding people with a financial status that allows sending money. Living in a “developed” country automatically puts you on a targeted list of people. From the criminal’s mind, that is where the money is. If you use online dating or social media, you’re definitely a target.
But there is also an additional reason why there is no foreseeable end to Nigeria and Ghana scams. Online criminals pick their targets very well. They look for vulnerable people. Those who have gone through a recent disappointment in their lives, like becoming a widow, losing a relative, or those who feel lonely or too self-conscious for any reason, are their perfect prey. It might seem unbelievable and cruel, but international private investigators have reported that most victims of romance fraud and advanced fee fraud are people who had recently been through a very sad situation or hardship, and are looking for help to recover from their grief. Unfortunately, expert online criminals won´t have any respect for people´s feelings, or their situation or life. They build the perfect website or profile or identity to fit what you need. And then, you unwittingly come to the them.
Skype and other internet phones allow criminals to receive and make calls using nearly any local number, from anywhere in the world. Think you’re communicating with someone in New York just because he or she has a New York number? You’d better verify. Searching IP addresses or tracing emails is of little value these days. Most criminals use IP masking software or proxy servers. Think you’re safe because you didn’t send the money to West Africa, but instead made payment to a company in West Virginia? You’d better speak to a professional to verify the company!
If you recently met someone on the internet and you are considering a business or personal relationship, be safe and speak to an investigate today about how to lower your risk and verify his or her identity. Never send money to anyone you’ve never met in person. Verify what you can on your own, and stay skeptical. Before making any serious commitment, discuss your case with a private investigator. If you’re online dating, get a dating background check as soon as possible! Look for red flags and take steps to avoid being the next victim.
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