Nigerians have raised the alarm on how they are being swindled daily by advance fee fraudsters, popularly know as ‘Yahoo-Yahoo boys’ and other criminals.
Following the incessant complaints to the police by members of the public, Daily Sun carried out an investigation, with tips on how to avoid being a victim.
On April 4, 2018, John Udor Williams was preparing for work when his phone rang and he answered the call in front of his landlord. While answering the call, he excused himself from the landlord and returned to the landlord immediately. Just as he was trying to appeal to the landlord not to be annoyed with him for the interruption, he started receiving debit alerts from his Diamond Bank account. Before he could come to terms with what hit him, his account had been depleted as the hoodlum who had telephoned him a few minutes earlier had cleared the N200,000 in his account.
Udor was still in shock over the incident as he said: “I got a phone call from a man who introduced himself as a Diamond Bank staff. He asked if I was John Udor Williams and mentioned my account number and I was convinced that he was a banker. The man said he was in charge of my account and that he needed to save me from fraudsters who had gained access to my account. He advised me to calm down, as he had already blocked the number so that they would not be able to withdraw money from my account. He said, to test if he was talking to the right person, I should send my bank verification number (BVN). Thinking that he was genuine, I gave me him my BVN and that was my greatest undoing. I lost the N200,000 I had saved for one year. I went to the police and they told me to bring N50,000 to track the criminal but, as I couldn’t provide the money, the case just died like that.”
Another victim of advance fee fraud, Christian Nwadiani narrated how he had a similar experience. In his case, while the caller told him exactly the same story, he was only asked to mention the last five digits of his automated teller machine (ATM) card number, which he did and, he said, “in the twinkling of an eye, N350,000 disappeared from my account.”
As for Sunday Ojianwune, when he went to withdraw money from an ATM in Lagos, he met a youth who was ahead of him at one of the cash points trying to withdraw money. The boy made several attempts and started behaving as if he was frustrated.
Ojianwune said, “He stepped outside and asked me to try my luck, as the machine did not dispense. Thinking that he was genuine, I slotted my card in the machine, but it did not dispense also. It was on Sunday evening and people were not many at the ATM point. Two of us left the point together.
“I was rather surprised that, when I looked back, I did not see the young man anymore. As I was trekking to another bank, I started receiving debit alerts and, before I realised what was happening, I had lost half a million naira. I called the numbers I got from the bank, but there was no one to pick the calls.
“I immediately went to Ajuwon Police Station to report the development. It was at the police station that I was told there was a device used by fraudsters to con victims. The police officer told me that once the fraudster entered the machine, he would programme the device so that the machine would capture every detail of the next person that would slot his ATM card in the machine. He said, as soon as I put my card in the ATM, the device had captured every detail about me, and the man who configured it had gone back to the machine to clear my money.”
One of the most trending fraud tactics that people encounter nowadays is a message of winning a promo or lotto.
Hear Adewale Onifade, a teacher: “I was preparing my lesson note for the next day’s teaching when I received a text message that ‘Adewale Onifade has just won N2 million from a company (names withheld), and I was told to call a particular number. When I called the number, a female voice responded and started asking me questions. What is your name, your place of work, etc? After answering the questions, the lady said I was lucky to be one of the winners of the company’s promo.
“When I raised the objection that I did not put an entry for any promo, the lady responded that the company would pick phone numbers of people randomly from service providers. I was so grateful that I was one of the chosen ones. After a few minutes, another person called, saying he was an agent for the company and demanded that, to process my money, I should send N30,000 worth of recharge cards to him. After thinking of the difference I would make upon getting the N2 million, I decided to buy the cards and send to them.
“The following day, the same number was used to call again to congratulate me. The female said they had received the N30,000 recharge cards for the first stage and asked me to send another N20,000 for the second stage. It was at that point that my wife told me to be wary of the peoples as they might be conmen. So, I contacted my cousin, who contacted the corporate communications department of the company, and they said the company was not doing any promo.”
And so the teacher ‘wrote off’ N30,000 of his hard-earned money.
What about the old style of money doubling “wash wash,” which is still trending? Many people have fallen victim to this fraud, where a group of people, usually three in number, would station themselves at bus stops and their kingpin would drive a taxi and pick passengers at the bus stops.
An unsuspecting passenger would board the cab along with the gang and at a particular bus stop down the road, one of the gang members who had a load in the car boot would pretend as if he forgot something and prevail on the driver to stop. Then the driver would open his car boot and would raise the alarm that the he was carrying huge amounts of dollars and all the passengers would alight and ask how he got the dollars.
The person purportedly carrying the money would claim that he did not want the police involved as he stole the money from a bureau de change operator and when the sack of money is opened, there would be a fearsome charm on top of the money, following which one of the gang members would suggest that he or she knows a strong medicine man who could assist in removing the charm and all the occupants of the car would drive to the supposed native doctor, who would be stationed in a shrine or an uncompleted, abandoned building.
On arrival, the juju priest would promise to exorcise the evil spirit in the money, but would place a caveat that, before he would start the spiritual work, the visitors must take an oath of secrecy not to divulge the information to anyone, including the police. After taking the oath of secrecy, the native doctor, who always had the name Baba, would ‘mysteriously’ mention the huge amount of money concealed in the sack.
A victim of this scam, Emmanuel Okorie, narrated that, “After taking the oath of secrecy, we were told to bring some money for some spiritual materials to cleanse the dollars. Baba, as they called him, gave us a N1 million bill. When I asked how much was in the bag, Baba said he had counted the money spiritually and discovered that it was $5,000.
“All the three people with me, including a lady, agreed to go and source for the money. We agreed to bring N250,000 each. As I did not know that the driver, passengers and the native doctor were part of a gang, I went and borrowed money from my elder sister, who I lied to that I had a business transaction.
“She kept asking what the business was all about but I didn’t want to tell her because of the oath of secrecy that we took. After giving me the money, I ran back to the native doctor, who lambasted me for delaying the job, he collected the money from me and said I should locate my ‘friends’ at an eatery, as he would be on his way to procure the materials and requested that we should come back in two hours’ time. I ran to the eatery but I did not see the people that I came to the juju priest’s shrine with.
“I decided to wait for two hours before going back to the place, being that I had no money on me, I left the eatery and started walking round the streets of Surulere, Lagos. After about two hours, I went back to the shrine and I did not see anyone. All the paraphernalia and materials kept in the building as a sign of a shrine had developed wings.
“I became confused. I started asking people who lived around there about Baba and they all told me that the building had been abandoned for a long time. I reported the development to the police; they requested for the phone numbers of the people but I did not have even one. The police said there was no way they could trace the people.
“The police told me that it was an old trick used by criminals to swindle people. The police were shocked that I did not know about the old trick and blamed me for being greedy. It was as if I was hypnotised. I am still paying the debt till today. The people have destroyed my integrity before my family who now regard me as being greedy.
“I am calling on the Nigeria Police to do something about the development, as many people have been narrating their experiences.”
A senior police officer confirmed to Daily Sun that the trick was an old one: “We have arrested many of them. I wonder why people, especially adults, are still falling victim to the old game.”
Another antic is fake prophecy, where some people who pose as prophets of God would prophesy to some people and convince victims to part with money.
A police officer said this scam involved people who knew a little history of the victim, “They would give the dossier to the fake prophet who would meet the potential victim on the road and call his or her name. The surprised victim would be interested to know more. For instance, if the victim is looking for the fruit of the womb, the prophet would tell the victim that one thing or the other, it may be parents, neighbours or anything, was the cause of the problem. The fake prophet can also put fear in the mind of his or her victim that death is lurking around, and demand money to buy spiritual materials for spiritual cleansing.”
“Many people, including bankers, teachers, lawyers, etc, fall victim daily. Many families have been destroyed by such fake prophecies,” he said.
He added that there was a case where one of those fake prophets told a man that his wife was behind his joblessness. The man believed it and chased his wife away.
According to the police officer, “A few months later, the prophet defrauded the man. After the fake prophet was arrested, during interrogation, he confessed that all the information he gathered was from a member of the syndicate who was living in the same compound with the victims. The husband and wife reconciled after the investigation, but what about many families that have been destroyed and have no opportunity to reconcile?
“I don’t want to go into religious homes where clerics recruit agents who give information about people, especially church members who they use information given about their victims to terrorise them and syphon money from them.
“I also want to advice that when people are driving, and they see people pointing at their tyre or their vehicles to make them drive off the road or wind down the glass while in traffic, the persons giving you signals may be a robber. If you stop on the highways, you could robbed or the hoodlums could pour oily substance on the car tyres and start telling you how your vehicle was leaking oil or has developed some faults. You would end up spending a fortune.
“If you are in traffic and you wind down, as one person is pointing on your tyre, another person would be on the other side, stealing your personal effects, especially phones.”
The list of frauds is endless. According to investigations, many people have also fallen victim to employment scams.
A renowned journalist who did not want his name in print said he was duped of N1.2 million this year.
Narrating his ordeal, Chuks (not real name), said: “I am very much ashamed of myself as I narrate this story to you. On January 1, I was in my village for the Christmas and New Year celebration when a message came to my phone. The message was that I should call a number immediately. I am a political reporter, so, when I called the man, he introduced himself as a member of the House of Representatives who I have helped in the past.
“The man asked about my political editor. My newspaper editor, the company’s managing director and other management staff. After exchanging pleasantries, the man asked if my political editor told me about any contract, and I said no. He now pretended as if he was angry and said I should stop trusting human beings. He broke the news that they sold a contract job to my editor and myself, but since he did not inform me about the contract I should not disclose the thing he would tell me.
“He told me that he was given three contracts and, since my political editor had collected the one he gave to us, he would give me another one. I was so excited and he told me that it was a N12 million contract, which he would sell for N5 million. I told him that I did not have that kind of money in my account, and he got angry. After lambasting me for not being serious in life, he promised to assist me with N2.5 million.
“He gave me an account that I would pay the money into and gave me three days to pay or lose the contract. He sent me the contract papers through my email and everything looked real. Believing that he was the House of Representatives member I had helped in the past, I approached my elder brother who gave me the N2.5 million, which I paid into the account.
“After the payment, the man sent me a message that he was on vacation in Dubai and that he would return in two weeks’ time. Two weeks became endless, but one day, I saw the supposed politician granting a live interview on television. I quickly contacted my political editor who said he had not seen or heard from the politician for over one year. I told him of my predicament and he told me that I had been scammed.
“We paid the police to track the owner of the account. He was traced to Kaduna but he had cleared the money and relocated. Up till this moment, the account is dormant. I know that somebody who knew me very well was behind the swindle.”
For Philomena Nkwor, an attempt was made to swindle her but she was lucky not to fall victim: “One of my colleagues in the bank paid me a visit, and as she took her leave, my two little children and I saw her off to the car. After that, we went back to the house. Before settling down, a phone call came. The male voice warned that I should not tell anyone, including my husband, what he would tell me. He compelled me to swear that I would keep it secret. I assured him that I would be secretive as I was inquisitive to hear what he wanted to say.
“He told me that he was Maharaji in charge of an Indian temple in Port Harcourt that a woman had just brought my daughter’s head for sacrifice but he saw that I had only two kids. He mentioned the names of my two kids and told me how stubborn my husband was hence he decided to warn me not to tell him. He told me that he needed seven rams seven vultures and other materials to appease the gods and the kingdom, warning that, if I failed to heed his advice, he would release my daughter to the kingdom for sacrifice.
“To convince me that someone was after my life, he charged me to go under the chair that my husband and I normally used. I lifted the chair and saw fearful charms under it. As I saw the charms, I just knew that it was someone or persons in my compound who did it while I saw my colleague off. I quickly contacted my husband who advised that I should play along with the conman. I asked the man what I should do and he said I should send him N500,000 or lose my only daughter.
“When he mentioned the amount, I got upset and I told him point-blank that he was a conman who was talking to the wrong person. I told him to watch, as I would set his head and the useless charms he kept under my chair on fire, which I did immediately. It was when I narrated my experience in the church that people started telling me how they were swindled out of huge amount of money through the same trick.”
Hear the story of a lawyer, Mr. Chidi Ekwuonu, who was threatened with death, if he did not drop N5 million at a specific location: “I had just returned from the burial of my uncle when my son called my attention my photograph pasted on my front door. We observed that behind my photograph was written ‘RIP. Want to stay alive, pay up and save your family of distress.’
“I was so worried that I met a police friend, who told me that a conman was trying to swindle me. He told that the person would soon call me, but when he calls I should be bold and warn the caller that he would be arrested. The following day, I got a phone call. The caller introduced himself as General Gwenso, ‘the man who kills when the victim least expects.’ He told me that he had been paid N5 million to eliminate me. He said I should pay back the money, as his conscience would not permit him to kill me, but placed a caveat that, if I failed to pay or if I invited the police, he would not only kill me but also go after my family.
“He said he knew everything about my wife and children. As he was blabbing, I told him to stop wagging his dirty mouth or risk arrest. I warned him that, if he talked again, I would deal with him. He told me to shut my mouth, but I did not hear from him again.
“I was scared but my police officer friend gave me the confidence to carry on.”
Another way dupes are wrecking havoc on their victims is through fake employment and visa offers. They normally advertise in the social media about employment in the civil service, police, military and paramilitary, where a non-refundable fee is first demanded, and many people are falling victim to the scams daily.
Some hoodlums have so much cashed in on the bad economic situation in the country to play on the intelligence of gullible Nigerians who they deceive with fake visa offers that it is almost an industry today. Many Nigerians have been swindled and more are still falling victim to this mode of fraud.
There are also fake auction sales by supposed Nigeria Customs Service officers. If you go to the social media, especially Facebook and WhatsApp, you would come across photographs of men and women in customs uniform advertising customs auction of vehicles, rice, vegetable oil, etc. Many victims have suffered outright death, stoke or indebtedness after being ‘baptised’ by the fake customs officers.
A controller of the NCS, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told our correspondent that Nigerians are losing more that N100 million monthly to fraudsters who pretend to be agents to customs officers.
But the officer was quick to add that, “Nigerians love to cut corners and they end up falling victim to the fraudsters. A neighbour once asked if a recruitment exercise was going on in our office and I told him that nothing like that was happening. He did not believe me, as he claimed I did not want to help him.
The officer said: “When he told the fraudster who claimed to be an agent to the NCS that a customs officer had told him there was no recruitment, the fraudster convinced him that I did not want to assist him. My neighbour paid N500,000 to the fraudster and connected three other colleagues in his office who also paid the amount.
“The bubble bust when my neighbour and his colleagues waited endlessly for employment and nothing happened. Today, his colleagues are still dragging him from one police station and formation to the other.
“We have lost count of how many people have been swindled by those who claim to be customs agents and officers on the social media. If I should be sincere, Nigerians are losing over N300 million to the fraudsters. One person might pay for 10 vehicles and so many pay millions for rice and groundnut oil. So many people have died and some suffered stroke and many are indebted after dealing with the fraudsters. Many marriages have been destroyed while brothers, friends and families are fighting dirty for the betrayal of some relatives who linked them to the fraudsters.”
National public relations officer for Nigeria Customs Service, Mr. Joseph Attah, in a telephone chat with Daily Sun, confirmed the auction scam.
He said: “Yes, many gullible Nigerians are failing victim to fraudsters who pose as customs officers on the social media, especially on Facebook and WhatsApp. We have been doing a lot to curb the practise. We have done jingles and mass media publications, including advertisements, warning people that Customs does not recruit or advertise auctions on Facebook and WhatsApp.
“We have arrested many fake customs officers and we convicted four recently. When we see them on the Facebook, we report to Facebook to block them, but they still use other names and photographs to open more accounts.
“Customs does not advertise on the social media, for employment or auction sales. When we want to do them, we advertise in national newspapers. Any advertisement on Facebook or WhatsApp or any other social media is false.”
A police officer that craved anonymity, as he was not supposed to speak to the press, revealed that many innocent people, especially youths, are languishing in jail or facing one litigation or the other, no thanks to the antics of fraudsters.
He stated that, “Nigeria Police is facing too many things. We are pursuing many criminals at the same time. The irony is that we don’t always get to the real criminals, except on rare occasions. The fraudsters are becoming wiser. They go to football fields, schools and football viewing centres to recruit innocent people who give them their bank accounts to perpetrate the crime.
“The hoodlums would meet the poor students and tell them cock and bull stories about how they were robbed of their bags containing their bank transaction materials and someone wants to transfer money into his account, but since he has nothing to transact the business with, the innocent boy would smile home with a huge amount if he or she would avail him his account number.
“The poor boy or girl would gladly give out the account number, which would be used to transact the illegal business. When we get reports of scams, we then end up tracing the account number used for the transaction to an innocent youngster.
“There is a case I am investigating now. A young man met another young man in an eatery and they started a discussion about the European league. They soon became friends. From their discussion, the criminal asked the innocent boy if he had an app for Uber taxi, and the young man innocently used his phone to call an Uber taxi for the criminal and went home, not knowing that the person he assisted in calling the Uber man was a criminal who killed the Uber driver and stole the car.
“It was when we checked the deceased driver’s app that we traced the last booking to the innocent man. The suspect has explained how he got involved, but the truth remains that he was the last person that contracted the Uber driver. Many people are suffering a similar fate.”