Jan 162014

Computer-CrimeIt was because the email advertising the prestigious International job came from his brother that Kofi finally responded. His guard was completely down because the fraudsters had such a strong cloak of ‘credibility’. Besides, it was not one of those obviously scummy emails: a friend allegedly stranded in Kukuanaland and begging you to wire 10, 000 sterling. Or you are suddenly emailed an unsolicited offer to split gargantuan inheritances. A total stranger, claiming to be some dead African President’s son, has come into sudden wealth. If only you could provide details of your bank account!

Out of 22 vacancies, only two related to Kofi’s area of expertise. And so he threw in an application. In due course, he was written a very polite formal email offering him a juicy job with the International Agency (IA). Manila in the Philippines would be his duty post. His new dollarized monthly salary would exceed his previous total annual rate. Fat allowances would cater for his family including their relocation and education. It was in many respects a dream job. What had he done to deserve this? It sounded too good to be true. It was too good to be true.

Further, he would first be taken to London for some orientation, return to Ghana briefly and then jet off to Manila. Soon, he was being asked to make advance payments for certain transactions with a firm promise of a later refund. Time was of the essence. When he asked ‘experts’, some said advance payment was a possibility in such circumstances. When he checked for the existence of services in Manila for which he was being charged, it turned out there were real agencies offering these services. When a transaction was delayed on account of a Philippines holiday, it was also confirmed that the Filipinos were indeed celebrating.

Kofi melted lifetime investments, borrowed, extorted, begged, called in old debts … till he had wired thousands of dollars. When the fraudsters returned some monies for rewiring on account of some technical hitch, it lent them even more credibility in his eyes. If they were fraudsters, how could they possibly return the money? And then he resigned from his Ghana job, paying off the company in lieu of the advance notice he should have given. Kofi only sensed danger when there was an incessant demand to make additional deposits for a supposedly optional housing scheme. When he started pushing back with critical queries of his own, communication from their end stopped abruptly, leaving him with a gnawing numbing cold.

It was shattering when the truth dawned. For days, he could barely step out of his house. His toddler children wondered what was wrong with daddy. His loving wife sat constantly by him and encouraged him to eat. He was truly shattered. Nothing felt as bad as the sense of losing his pride. He had also walked out of a decent job. All his lifetime savings were gone. How was he going to feed his family?

Slowly however, Kofi picked himself up. The sudden death of a close friend at 43 taught him it could have been worse than the thousands of dollars he had lost. “It made me appreciate that with life all wasn’t lost. I got a solemn and reassuring family who encouraged me. Especially my brother and his friend who had experienced something similar provided adequate support, including massive financial support. My wife and good friends provided counsel.”

Months later, Kofi shares his story in the hope that others might be saved from the same bitter experience. Next time, do not compromise on the necessary scrutiny, he counsels. If it sounded too good, it was probably too good to be true. Because the fraudulent email address used bore such striking similarity to the authentic one, life has today dealt Kofi a crash course in website cloning, establishing IP addresses and other IT shenanigans.

A month ago, a very young man walked into my office to inquire about the possibility of a medical examination. The ‘same’ International Agency had emailed him exciting job vacancies. After double checking with the Ghana office upon advice, he aborted the application process.

Two weeks ago, I heard the heart wrenching story of an NGO that had sourced 150, 000 USD from a donor for a breakthrough project requiring a major acquisition from a manufacturer. Within seconds of the donor wiring the money to the NGO, the NGO Director received an email altering the bank details of the manufacturer on some spurious basis. Without double checking, he promptly wired the money to the manufacturer using this new account. Today, there is absolutely no trace of the money, having hit a New York account, and within hours, being split into multiple accounts!

I hear the Communication Minister’s strenuous denial of Ghana’s unenvious number two position in global cybercrimes. I do not know what our rank is. But whatever it is, it is many ranks too high and from the little I have heard in a matter of weeks, I am convinced that cybercrime is an active silent epidemic with an unsuspecting Ghanaian public at the receiving end of high profile internet based fraud. What we need now are equally sophisticated counter measures and massive public education.

Fact Sheet from Wikipedia

La Tante DC 10 Restaurant is a public private partnership restaurant established in Accra which operates from the defunct Ghana Airways DC-10 carrier. It is the first airplane restaurant to be established in Africa.[1] It is situated opposite the Marina Mall at the Airport City in Accra.The La Tante DC 10 restaurant is fully air-conditioned with a unique ambiance has and a seating capacity of 118. The chairs and tables have been re-designed to meet high operational standards with separate wash rooms for male and female customers.[2]

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