Nigerian scammers in line of fire
Wednesday, 3 March, 2004, 06:47 GMT
In the third of three reports on e-mail fraud, Go Digital's Tracey Logan meets Nuhu Ribadu, head of Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, who is trying to end so-called 419 e-mail scams.
What has been the impact of the internet on the 419-type of fraud?
Massive because fraudsters can send you something, get you to believe what they are sending and get you to send your money. They used to do it by telephone or fax, or sending a bogus letter. The development of the internet makes it a lot easier for them.
They can send thousands and thousands of messages all over the world and get someone hooked. It has simplified the whole process for them. The internet is now 80 to 90% of the way they use to transmit those scam letters.
These scams are widely referred to as the Nigerian 419 fraud. Do you accept that it is largely Nigerian criminals that are doing this sort of thing?
It is going on all over the world. But this particular one has become very popular in Nigeria, probably we had this difficulty in bringing people to justice. It became a successful thing in Nigeria and people were making money out of it. Somehow we failed to address the problem. We failed to stop it.
Handful of scammers
Are the scams run by organised crime?
It is wrong to say it is organised. It is a thing that is being done by individuals. It is an individual thing to do that is easy to do and find very gullible victims, and probably greedy people, who believe they are going to make money out of the thing and in the process lost their money.
How big a force is the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission?
NR: When we started, the law gave us leverage to bring in people from sister agencies, so we got people seconded to the commission. Right now we are about 200 to 250 people.
When we started the work, we realised there was so much to it, it was unbelievable. We realised we would have to prioritise. And we found first that what we ought to concern ourselves with was this 419 thing.
How much has it damaged Nigeria's reputation?
It has done so much damage to our credibility, our image, our honour. And there are just a few individuals doing this. We have some 130 million people in Nigeria and I can assure that there are only between 50,000 and 100,000 people involved in this thing.
Now a lot of people in Nigeria don't have their own computer and use internet cafes. Do you have enough collaboration from internet cafes themselves?
We are proposing an amendment to the fraud law. At the time the law was passed in 1995, the internet was not too popular and not very widely used as it is today. So the law did not address the use of the internet. We are proposing an amendment that will give us adequate authority and power to oversee the internet cafes, banking sector and telecoms companies.
What we intend to do is to tell them that they must police their facilities and not allow them to be used by criminals to defraud and cheat people. If you allow it, you will be personally liable. It is the same with the banking sector. If you allow your bank to dupe someone, you will be personally liable, you will be asked to pay back this money.
You are quite a small force. How will you face up to the fraudsters?
No doubt we will have a fight in front of us. The good thing is we are ready. We are not going to run away from that. We are ready to fight. We look at the work as national service. We are out there and there is a war going on. There is no alternative.
We want to show to the whole world that most of us are really concerned about this problem. We are good people in Nigeria. We are fighting to ensure there is rule of law in the country. We don't want the place to be a haven for criminals. Nigeria is changing. There is a quiet revolution going on.
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