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February 10, 2011

Busy Internet

We’ve all received those emails; someone with the same name as ours has died and left cash unclaimed. We can get their money if we just send some money first or send our bank details. And then there are the emails from a friend who is traveling and in desperate need of cash. And of course, Raquel, Marie, Angelique who want to be our friends and send us photos. If you respond to these emails, perhaps the next time you check your bank account your lifetime earnings are gone.

I’ve always associated this type of fraud with Nigeria, but I recently discovered that Ghana places second in the world amongst places where internet fraud is prevalent. Internet cafes are all the rage here, and while I am sure that most of the patrons are legitimate, many are actually using the computers for internet fraud.

In Ghana, the people who perpetrate this fraud are referred to Sakawa boys, a Hausa word meaning “putting it in”. These Sakawa boys are typically aged between 18 and 28 years old, but can be as young as 13. Those below 18 have usually dropped out of school to specialize in cyber robbery. They buy credit card numbers, find ways to hijack email addresses, and pretend to be women to entice American men to send them money and much more.

And they are successful. If they send out 2,000 emails a day and 5 people respond sending US$1,000 each, they have made a fortune. The boys, who become rich overnight, are then the toast of their families who seldom question where their jobless children got access to money.

This ‘sakawa’ business does have its risks. There are gangs who hang about around the post offices waiting for successful operators to come to pick up parcels from their marks. The sakawa boys may then become the victims.

Many of these boys believe that the occult can help them in their success and they consult juju men (obeah men) for potions and spells to increase their wealth or to make their marks more vulnerable.

A lot is being done in Ghana through education and police crackdowns at internet cafes to stop this crime. On the other hand, I read an article which espoused the actual and potential benefits including:
development of computer skills
stabilization of the local currency as a result of remittances from the
a reduction in the number of youth engaging in criminal activity on the streets,
redistibution of wealth, and
increased patronage of internet café and ISP services.

At the end of the day, we have the power to end this by being cautious and remembering that there is no such thing as a free lunch. If it is too good to be true, it most definitely is.

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