West Africa Takes Lead in Fighting 419 Scams

First regional event on combating cybercrime held in Nigeria

The first West Africa Cyber Crime Summit was convened on 30 November - 2 December in Nigeria's capital Abuja. The summit focused on the theme, "The Fight against Cybercrime: Towards Innovative and Sustainable Economic Development," by the EFCC in collaboration with UNODC, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Microsoft. Participants from all over the world considered local and international cybercrime strategies and policies with a view to strengthening international cooperation and developing a regional road map that tackles cyber crime and fosters economic growth. His Excellency, Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Arch. Namadi Sambo, GCON, gave the keynote speech to open the Summit on how the public and private sector must work together to eliminate cybercrime and foster legitimate economic opportunity for West Africans. "The impact of cybercrime on Nigeria's ability to do business globally is enormous. Not only do we lose millions in tax revenue that could go towards local infrastructure that would attract foreign investment, but even local businesses find their emails are automatically blocked, simply because they originate on a Nigerian server," said the Vice President. "West Africa cannot afford a reputation for online fraud and corruption in the 21 st knowledge economy. We must put a legal framework in place to stop cybercrime across the region now."

With over 450 people in attendance from across the world including Togo, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Gambia, Ghana, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Niger, Austria, UK, France, USA, Turkey, South Africa, UAE, Tunisia and Nigeria. Various international and regional organizations were present, including: United Nation on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Council of Europe (CoE), INTERPOL, US Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Federal Trade Commission, US Department of Homeland Security, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), European Union and FRANCOPOL., the summit focused on how to:

  • Position the fight against cybercrime as a national priority to help the economic development in the region
  • Provide a platform to develop capacity building with scalable and sustainable resources
  • Strengthen trust by developing partnerships among various stakeholders at the national and international level; government, civil society, academics, industry and international organizations
  • Showcase best practices and case studies of partners organization in combating cybercrime

One form of cybercrime that has become especially associated with the region is the advance fee fraud, collectively known as "Nigeria" or "419" scams.  Through schemes such as fake lotteries, bogus inheritances, romantic relationships, investment opportunities or - infamously - requests for assistance from "officials," scammers promise an elusive fortune in exchange for advance payments.   According to Microsoft's Security Intelligence Report volume 9, advance fee fraud accounted for 8.6 percent of the spam messages blocked by Microsoft's Forefront Online Protection for Exchange (FOPE) in the second quarter of 2010 alone.

For example, Dr. Amadou Thidjane Cisse, a retired medical doctor from Nigeria, recalled how he received an email which appeared genuine, announcing that he had won the "Microsoft Lottery" and was due a prize of 250,000 Naira. When Dr. Cisse contacted the senders, they insisted he fill in a number of documents and open a bank account in the Ivory Coast to deposit the winnings. Dr. Cisse became suspicious and reported the issue to his bank, Microsoft Nigeria and the EFCC, taking along copies of the documentation mailed to him - which even included a forgery of Bill Gates' signature. He says that since he reported the scam, the criminals have not made contact with him again. "I am glad to know that Microsoft and the EFCC are working together to protect innocent people from these crooks," said Dr. Cisse.

419 scams, known locally as "yahoo-yahoo," have also taken root in Nigeria's popular culture. To help address this issue, the Microsoft Internet Safety, Security and Privacy Initiative for Nigeria (MISSPIN), EFCC and Paradigm Initiative Nigeria collaborated with highly respected Nigerian music producer and popular local musicians, to release the song "Maga No Need Pay. " Challenging young Nigerians to resist the temptation of "yahoo-yahoo," the song title translates as "You don't have to scam to become successful."  The song's video has already been viewed nearly 200,000 times on YouTube since its release in February 2010.

Dr. Jummai Umar-Ajijola, citizenship lead for Microsoft Anglophone West Africa described the summit as a great opportunity to fight advance fee fraud and help challenge existing attitudes about fraud."

For more information about the first West Africa Cybercrime Summit, please visit: http://www.waccs.net/