These are perilous times for Nigeria and the world. While the novel coronavirus pandemic currently wreaks havoc on mankind, fraudsters in different parts of the world are planning to wreak financial havoc on hapless people. The other day, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) alerted Nigerians, especially the banking public, to the presence of cyber criminals in our midst. These fraudsters and their techniques are not new to Nigerians. Usually, they call or send messages to their unsuspecting victims and ask them to open a particular link to update their banking details. Sometimes, they inform the victim that his ATM card has been blocked.
The only difference this time is that they take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to gain unauthorised access to computers or mobile devices, steal sensitive information and defraud unwary citizens.
Part of their new techniques, the CBN noted, included sending out emails claiming to be from the World Health Organisation (WHO) or Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). They also send messages via the social media or emails asking people to click on links to register for relief package from the government or other organisations. “Relief package scams also come in the form of phone calls asking people to provide their banking details to receive relief packages,” the CBN stated.
Besides, there are some other fraudsters who specialise in denying vulnerable citizens of the economic stimulus package the government initiated to cushion the effects of COVID-19 lockdown. In Lagos, for instance, it has been reported that some thickly populated streets and estates were given a loaf of bread and some paltry food items.
These are disturbing trends. But they are not even as dangerous as the attempts by some religious leaders to weave the coronavirus pandemic around some end-time, 5G conspiracy theories. They have even linked the lockdown of Abuja and Lagos to the alleged plot by the Federal Government to lay 5G cables in the two cities. It is important to note that plagues of this nature occur from time to time and have nothing to do with end-time fears. Spanish flu killed an estimated 50 million people in the world from 1918-1920. Many other diseases like yellow fever, small pox, and AIDS killed millions of people and yet the world didn’t end.
We cannot stop these religious leaders from expressing their opinions. But they should realise that the literacy level in Nigerian is low. In 2001, Muslim youths rioted in Maiduguri, Borno State, over an eclipse of the sun which they believed was as a result of too many sins in the society. Thus, it is incumbent on these leaders to be cautious in their utterances. As opinion leaders, they influence the thinking of most of their followers who believe them without question.
Eternal vigilance should be the watchword for Nigerians. It is heartening that banks have not relented in warning their customers never to reveal their online banking password, card number or ATM PIN to anyone. People should heed this call and be circumspect in exposing their bank details to unknown people. They should be wary of any call or message asking them to click on any link or attachments for information on COVID-19 or to register for COVID-19 relief package.
Nigerians should also continue to maintain social distancing and observe other measures aimed at containing COVID-19 until otherwise advised. We cannot handle the devastation that will trail this epidemic in our communities if we are not careful.
It behoves on the government and information managers of non-governmental organisations to let people know the facts. They should try as much as possible to sensitise the people through the traditional and other media including town criers in the villages.
Above all, the law enforcement agencies should not hesitate to invoke the existing cybercrime law to deal with cyber fraudsters taking advantage of gullible citizens.