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How Yahoo boys befriend, bribe policemen, soldiers to evade justice

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• Scammers joining police to cover tracks –Sources

In this report, Afeez Hanafi and Percy Ani write about tactics internet fraudsters, otherwise known as yahoo boys employ to perpetuate their illicit act under the watch of security agents

Peter Onyeiwu was driving home with his friends from Oniru Beach – a relaxation spot uptown Lagos – when his car was flagged down by some policemen. Immediately they ordered him and his friends to alight from the car, he sensed trouble was looming. He had yet to wipe off receipts of his last ‘deal’ that fetched him about N5m from his email.

Using a dating site to pull off romance scams by posing as a woman, Onyeiwu solicited financial favours from unsuspecting men and sometimes, women, promising love relationships in exchange.

He had plans to spend his latest windfall during Yuletide and feared the policemen could demand a huge cut from it.

“Immediately we disembarked, one of the policemen, who appeared to be their team leader, asked his two other colleagues to ransack my vehicle. When they didn’t find anything incriminating, they asked us to hand over our phones for searching,” said Onyeiwu, who opened up to Saturday PUNCH on the assurance that his real name would not be disclosed.

After searching through his phones for a few minutes, the cops found the dating app 27-year-old Onyeiwu used for fleecing unwitting foreigners. To further nail him, they saw a handful of bank transactions he could not defend.

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After almost an hour of grilling that clearly exposed his criminal act, Onyeiwu and his two friends resorted to begging the cops who threatened fire and brimstone.

They eventually gave him two options: “pay N500,000 to get off the hook or risk going to jail if prosecuted.”

Knowing what was at stake for him and his two friends, who were accomplices, Onyeiwu jumped at the first option, but negotiated for a reduced fee of N100,000.

After much pleading, the team leader reportedly agreed to his bargain and asked one of the policemen to lead him to the nearest Automated Teller Machine to make withdrawals.

They were driving around, looking for an ATM when the policeman received a call from his superior, asking him to return to the checkpoint with Onyeiwu immediately.

He recalled, “I thought the policemen had changed their minds and decided to take us to their station. When we got back to the checkpoint, I saw two men dressed in military uniforms discussing with my friends. My friends appeared relaxed so I walked up to them.

“Before I could ask what happened, I heard the men dressed in military uniform thanking the policemen for their cooperation. They asked me to get in the car and that was how I went home with my friends. On our way, I asked my friends how he got the soldiers to intervene. One of them said while I was negotiating with the policemen, he secretly sent an SOS text to a soldier who usually helps him out on such occasions.”

Onyeiwu said since his friend introduced him to the officer two years ago, the fear of being subjected to the full weight of the law if caught had waned drastically.

He added, “Since I met him in 2019, I’ve sought his help more than twice, and he always came through for me. All I was required to do was pay a small percentage to him whenever I made money from my ‘hustle.’”

Fraudsters emboldened by security operatives

In recent years, there has been a rising spate of cybercrime in Nigeria. While the crime is prevalent among young men, more females have also been indulging in it for a living.

With youths making up about 42.5 per cent of Nigeria’s population, there is an air of restiveness across the country, worsened by the high level of unemployment and poverty.

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In the fourth quarter of 2020, youth unemployment jumped to 53.40 per cent from 40.80 per cent in the second quarter of the same year, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

Coupled with the endemic get-rich-quick syndrome, more youths now turn to a life of cybercrime. Armed with a laptop/smart phone and internet connection, all the tools to swindle unsuspecting individuals are readily available to them.

Bolstered by law enforcement agents’ backing, several youths now flaunt their ill-gotten wealth with impunity and live an opulent life undeterred by arrest and prosecution.

Like Onyeiwu, Peter Obasogie (pseudonym) has found a comforting enabler in a policeman, whose back he always has whenever his illegal financial dealings go sour.

He had hooked up with the cop sometime 2020 while returning from a nightclub in Benin City, Edo State, where he had gone to celebrate with a friend who recently ‘cashed out’ – a street lingo used by fraudsters after a successful scam.

The policeman and two others had accosted him and after searching his phone, they arrested him and took him to their station.

He recalled, “I spent the entire night locked up in a cell, where some criminals beat me all through the night. It was the most dreadful night I have ever had. The next morning, the officer in charge of my case called me into his office and said if I wanted my problem solved, I knew what to do.

“I understood what he meant and quickly agreed to his offer. After giving him N100,000 he demanded, he ordered that my clothes, phones, and car key be returned and I was freed.”

Before he left, the policeman extended a hand of friendship to him – an offer too juicy for Obasogie to decline.

He stated, “I agreed to have him as a helper whenever I get arrested by other law enforcement agents. A few months ago, I was arrested by some policemen in Benin City, and I lied to them that I wanted to place a call to a friend who would help bring the money they asked for.

“I called my protector (the policeman) instead and who requested to speak to his colleagues. They asked why I hadn’t told them he was my friend. They just collected N30,000 from me and freed me. As a sign of gratitude, I sent N20,000 to my police friend and introduced my friends who are also in the ‘business’ with meto him.”

In August 2020, residents of Effurun in the Uvwie council area of Delta State were greeted with shock when suspected internet fraudsters, numbering about 10, stormed the area in several vehicles on Jakpa Road escorted by six cops.

Witnesses claimed that the youths, said to be in their 20s, drove recklessly in the presence the armed escort, who ensured they were not challenged by aggrieved residents.

Worrying trend of cyber fraud in Nigeria

According to the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, “close to $600bn is lost to cybercrime each year.”

In a 2020 report by the Global Cybersecurity Index on the snapshot of cyber security measures taken by countries, Nigeria ranked 47th out of 182 countries, globally and fourth in Africa after Mauritius, Tanzania, and Ghana.

Nigerians lost about N159bn to cybersecurity threats in 2013, according to global payment giant, Paypal.com and since 2014, the country has been losing N90bn to cybercrime yearly. In December 2015, it ranked as the 17th most attacked nation globally based on threat intelligence collated from Check Point Software Technologies.

Cybercrime in Nigeria surged at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the attendant lockdowns, the Institute for Security Studies noted.

Using the pandemic as bait to impersonate brands and mislead employees and customers, cybercriminals gained access to technological devices of unsuspecting individuals and corporate organisations, especially offshore firms.

Recently, the Nigerian Communications Commission alerted Nigerians to Flubot, a malware targeted at stealing banking details from Android users by requesting “fake security updates and app installations.”

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It was reported that in 2018, commercial banks in the country lost about N15bn to electronic fraud and cybercrime while over 17,600 bank customers lost N1.9bn to cyber fraud in the same year.

Worse still, the Nigeria Consumer Awareness and Financial Enlightenment Initiative projected a $6trn loss to cybercrime within and outside Nigeria by 2030.

In September 2021, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission expressed worry that the Lekki area of Lagos State had become the hotbed of cybercrime in Nigeria, adding that 402 suspects were arrested for the crime in three months in the area.

The agency’s data specifically identified Ajah, Badore, Victoria Garden City, Sangotedo and Oniru areas of Lekki as having many internet fraudsters in the state, with many of the arrested fraudsters aged between 25-34 years.

Analysis of the data from the Cyber Crime Section further shows that the dominant form of internet crime is dating scam/romance scam with 64 per cent of individuals arrested involved it.

 “The 64% involved in the dating scam benefitted to the tune of N8,310,000; $349,290 USD; £ 900; €10 and cryptocurrency 0.17513.

“Other typologies of fraud identified include forgery, possession of fraudulent documents, spamming, credit card fraud, impersonation, rental scam, loan fraud, business email compromise, hacking, stealing, cheque scam, phishing, and money laundering,” the EFCC’s statement said.

The data further revealed that gift cards, aaccounted for about 39 per cent of the method employed by the suspects to access their illicit funds. Cryptocurrency and bank transfer scams made up about 27 per cent and 21 per cent of their scamming methods respectively while “a total of $12, 512.49USD was recovered from the e-wallet accounts of four suspects within the period.”

In November, EFCC operatives arrested 60 suspected internet fraudsters during an award ceremony at a hotel in Abeokuta, Ogun State.

According to the commission, an investigation revealed that the event tagged ‘Peer Youths Awards,’ was organised to reward high-level internet fraudsters.

Items recovered from the suspects at the point of arrest include exotic cars, electronic devices, laptop computers and mobile phones.

Getting out of the woods

Another internet fraudster, who identified himself simply as Adesoji, told Saturday PUNCH how he frequently ran into trouble with security agents and coughed up huge sums to bribe his way before he sought help from his more experienced friends.

He disclosed, “They (my friends) first laughed at me for being naïve all these while. The next evening, my friends took me to a bar where I met a police officer. They told me he was the one who helped them out whenever they got into messy situations with the law.”

After that meeting, Adesoji’s worries disappeared like rainbows. The next time he was apprehended by another set of policemen on the road, he called the officer whose intervention prevented him from paying an exorbitant bribe or being detained.

In return, all that was expected of the young man was to remain loyal to ‘his benefactor’ by giving him a cut of his proceeds whenever he made money from his illicit deals.

He added, “The officer also provides cover for other boys and he is not the only one doing such a thing. I have friends in other states who tell me how security agents shield them. Most of them are poorly paid, so forging a relationship with us is an easy way for them to make money.”

Sources confirm sordid relationships

Several security sources, who confided in Saturday PUNCH, confirmed the shoddy relationship between yahoo boys and some policemen.

A police inspector attached to a police formation in Lagos claimed that although he had never involved in such an unprofessional act, some of his colleagues benefited from cybercrime proceeds.

He stated, “When policemen arrest them (yahoo boys) the first time and they are released, the next time they are arrested by the same policemen, they will be treated as allies. Having become friends, some yahoo boys will even ask policemen to accompany them to some places such as banks because they don’t want any security agent to disturb them.

“If another set of policemen arrest them, they will call their police friends to get soft-landing and facilitate their bail. A police friend in Ibadan (Oyo State) called me about a month ago and said EFCC officials arrested some yahoo boys in Lekki and he wanted me to intervene.

“He promised that the boys would pay me N1m if they are freed. I declined but he called another policeman who agreed. Many policemen know them.”

An officer at a police unit in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, also affirmed that some cops “relate well with yahoo boys and most times, end up as friends.”

He said the amount charged for bail depended on the class and status of an arrested internet fraudster.

The source added, “Yahoo boys get grades. Some are local; others are top class, so the bail money collected depends on the level of the yahoo boy. Some may pay N100,000, N200,000 or N500,000. Others, who are ‘rich,’ pay as much as N5m to be freed. It all depends on the status of the suspect and the money found in their bank accounts.”

Another cop, who once served at an anti-fraud unit, disclosed that yahoo boys fraternise with both junior and senior officers as well as military men freely. He cited a case where policemen arrested cybercriminals at a hotel in Lekki together with some soldiers backing them.

The officer said, “The policemen took them to the station and were demanding N3m for their release. That was over a year ago. Yahoo boys deal with senior officers too who act as their godfathers. At times, if junior officers arrest those guys, the senior officers will order that they should be released.”

Policemen learn fraud tactics

Beyond bribery, Saturday PUNCH investigation also revealed that some policemen learn tactics of internet fraud from yahoo boys after establishing a cordial relationship with them.

“At this point, the yahoo boy may stop giving his police friend returns. However, some policemen learn it from yahoo boys to know all the intricacies and apply the skill to nail any suspect they arrest,” a police source said.

“There was a time we raided a spot in Offa (Kwara State) where yahoo boys normally gathered. Surprisingly, it was a police constable who led those boys to where we were for dialogue. We later found out that the policeman also deals in internet fraud,’’ he added.

‘Yahoo boys joining police to cover tracks’

“Let me shock you,” the source declared, shaking his head in disgust.

He continued, “Some Yahoo boys now join the police to cover their tracks. There is a yahoo boy we had arrested a couple of times. When I saw him last year, he was in a police uniform.

“I told him he only joined the Force to cover his criminal escapades and he laughed. I know another one who even joined as a commissioned officer (Assistant Superintendent of Police). The logic behind it is that many of them are tired of giving out huge bribes.

“Some soldiers also work with yahoo boys. They use soldiers as guards when they are going out. A soldier will sit in front of the car so that when police stop them, they would use the soldier as a cover.

“But policemen who are bold will arrest them and even threaten to drag the soldier into it. At that point, the soldier will advise them to ‘settle’ because his job is also at stake.”

We’ll investigate, punish any cops working with criminals – Police  

When briefed on Saturday PUNCH’s findings, the Force Public Relations Officer, CP Frank Mba, insisted that it was hypothetical to say policemen shield yahoo boys and engage in unethical relationship with them.

He, however, said any policeman found culpable of dealing with criminals would be punished accordingly irrespective of their rank.

He said the Force had recorded major breakthroughs in recovering illicit funds from yahoo boys, adding that failure of most victims to appear in court during prosecutions was a challenge to the police.

He said, “What you have done is an over-generalisation. If you can give me specific instances where a particular police officer has compromised with yahoo boys, name the police officer, the yahoo boys and the location, I will take it up and will be able to answer you on that basis.

“The cybercrime unit of the Force Headquarters is doing a lot of job. We have recovered several monies that have been returned to the victims through their embassies in Abuja. We had a major breakthrough in COVID-19 scam where we recovered thousands of euros from yahoo boys that scammed a pharmaceutical company based in Germany.

“If any police officer is found conniving with any kind of criminals irrespective of their rank, we do not hesitate to name and shame them. We do not hesitate to investigate them and owe them accountable. We do not hesitate to even charge them if there is sufficient evidence to sustain prosecution.”

On Yahoo boys joining the police in order to have ‘some immunity,’ the FPRO said background checks were carried out on intending recruits to ensure that best candidates are chosen.

He also urged members of the public to assist in building a decent society by reporting those who are of questionable characters wanting to join the police.

Mba stated, “When we do our recruitments, we do them publicly. We also conduct a lot of background checks. Beyond that, respectable members of society are supposed to sign for the intending recruits (as referees). We also have a whistle-blowing system that permits members of the public to alert the police if they discover that somebody with a bad past wants to join the police.

“Even after we have recruited you, while you are on training, the processes continue because you can be thrown out of the force any moment. Even when you graduate, you’re still on probation and when you’re fully confirmed, you can still be thrown out anytime. I am sure you know a number of them that we have thrown out.

“Aside from digital screening, we also do physical screening. We do everything possible to make sure we select the best. However, we can only select the best among those that have applied. We don’t do conscription into the Nigeria Police Force.”

Call by one of our correspondents to the line of the Director, Army Public Relations, Brig. Gen. Onyema Nwachukwu, on Tuesday and Wednesday rang out while calls to his line on Thursday and Friday didn’t go through. He had yet to reply to text message sent to him on the alleged collusion between soldiers and yahoo boys as of press time.

Curbing cybercrime, conspiracies

A Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice Administration, Sam Smah, noted that the growing trend of cybercrime and its dimensions could be resolved if the government was committed to taking decisive actions.

He said, “Most times you find security agencies in Nigeria raiding and parading these suspected internet fraudsters and afterwards, you hear nothing else. The government cannot claim to be oblivious to this collusion between internet fraudsters and certain members of security agents. A while ago, it was alleged that the now-imprisoned Internet fraudster, Hushpuppi, was in collusion with a high-ranking police officer, (DCP) Abba Kyari. It shows so much of what goes on underground. Refusal to cooperate with some of these security agents could mean getting exposed and facing the law.

“There is so much conspiracy between many security agents and these internet fraudsters. You even have cases of missing case files. The situation is disheartening and worrisome to say the least. So, there won’t be any success in the fight against internet fraud until the government takes the front foot in fighting these corrupt officials.

“If the government sends out spies to monitor and arrest internet fraudsters, then it is only right that they also send out another set of spies to monitor the conduct of the first group sent out. This can help to check errant behaviours among security agents.”

Smah stated that an internal cleansing of officials as well as criminal prosecution processes must be carried out by the government to tackle the challenges encountered in the fight against internet fraud in the country, adding that safer cyberspace would attract more investments.

Commenting on the issue, a constitutional lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mike Ozekhome, said the major problem plaguing Nigeria was not a lack of laws, but poor enforcement.

He stated, “There are many laws, but very little enforcement. There are laws that cover aiding and abetting criminals. Since these law enforcement agents aid and abet these internet fraudsters, they are participants in their crime.

“The system has become so rotten that police officers are allegedly making returns to their superiors, who in turn make returns to their higher bosses. This creates a huge question: Who will police the police? Nigeria has become so corrupt that internet fraudsters have taken over even universities, where they are respected for their ill-gotten wealth. There is a serious need for social and ethical re-orientation.”

In a recent interview with Sunday PUNCH, a software engineer and tech content creator, Adora Nwodo, called for cybersecurity training for every individual and corporate organisation to enable them detect and prevent different forms of security threats. She noted that cyber security should be taken seriously to guide against data theft and corruption as well as scam.

She added, “We also need to educate other Nigerian citizens through TV, radio or social media communications about not sharing passwords, using secured Wi-Fi, controlling who has access to their computers and more.”

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No part of Lagos is under any lockdown – Lagos police

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The Lagos State Police Command has denied reports that some parts of the state is under a partial lockdown as a preventive measure against security threats.

Spokesman for the command, Benjamin Hundeyin, stated this in a series of tweets on Thursday in a reaction emanating from a Wednesday’s statement credited to the state’s Commissioner of Police, Abiodun Alabi.

Alabi was on Wednesday reported to have said that there was a partial lockdown of the state by security agencies due to the threats of attacks by unknown gunmen.

He was claimed to have said this in Lagos during the state stakeholders’ forum on police accountability quarterly meeting and awards.

But the state PPRO Hundeyin in a response via Twitter said, “@LagosPoliceNG Commissioner of Police, CP Abiodun Alabi, fdc only affirmed that entry and exit points are being closely monitored by security agencies to forestall any security breach in the state.

“He gave this assurance while answering a question bothering on police stop-and-search in some parts of Lagos State. NO PART OF LAGOS IS ON LOCKDOWN, PARTIAL OR TOTAL.

“All residents of Lagos State are enjoined to go about their lawful duties without fear; while remaining vigilant and observing situational awareness at all times.”

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Man ‘Selling Hard Drugs on Jiji’ Arrested in Abuja

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Orakwe Chibuike Celestine

Orakwe Chibuike Celestine, the MD/CEO of Marvelrock Pharmaceuticals and Stores Ltd., has been arrested by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) for selling illicit and controlled drugs on jiji.ng, a popular e-commerce platform.

The arrest was made known in a statement by Femi Babafemi, the NDLEA’s director of media and advocacy, on Wednesday.

Orakwe, a University of Abuja graduate, registered the pharmaceutical company on December 16, 2014, with the certificate and support of a licensed pharmacist, who opted out of the deal in 2017, according to Babafemi.

“The suspect continued running the business and enrolled it on Jiji.ng platform in 2019. He, however, came under NDLEA’s radar in October 2021 when he advertised many pharmaceutical products such as Tramadol, Ketamine Hydrochloride injection, and Hypnox flunitrazepam tablets, among others, on the Jiji.ng online marketplace,” Babafemi said.

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“Between 26th October 2021 and 8th August 2022, the team of anti-narcotic officers assigned to investigate Orakwe’s drug business activities was able to establish the suspect was selling Tramadol 225mg and other illicit/controlled drugs through the e-commerce platform.

“As a result, the suspect was arrested with some quantities of Tramadol and Swiphnol brand of Rohypnol on Monday 8th August at a drink joint in Jabi area of Abuja where he had gone to make some supplies of orders made through his online channel on Jiji.ng.”

While reacting to the development, Mohammed Marwa, the NDLEA chairman, said the “painstaking investigation and process of arresting the businessman” should send a strong message to those hiding behind the internet to engage in marketing and selling of illicit/controlled drugs.

“The agency will definitely get them to face the consequences of their action,” he said.

FIJ

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3 Nigerians ‘Steal’ Over $5m From US Universities

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The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has accused three Nigerians living in the United Kingdom of defrauding universities, individuals and companies in the United States of over $5 million.

According to a statement obtained from the US Department of Justice, the FBI extradited Oludayo Kolawole John Adeagbo, Donald Ikenna Echeazu and Olabanji Egbinola to the US from the United Kingdom on August 10.

The three Nigerians allegedly swindled universities and companies in North Carolina, Texas and Virginia out of millions of dollars between 2016 and 2018.

Adeagbo and Echeazu are charged with wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy and aggravated identity theft for defrauding a North Carolina university of more than $1.9 million via a business email compromise scheme.

“According to allegations contained in the indictment, from August 30, 2016, to January 12, 2017, Adeagbo and Echeazu conspired with other individuals to obtain information about significant construction projects occurring throughout the United States, including an ongoing multi-million-dollar project at the victim University,” the statement read in part.

“To execute the scheme, the defendants (Adeagbo and Echeazu) allegedly registered a domain name similar to that of the legitimate construction company in charge of the University’s project and created an email address that closely resembled that of an employee of the construction company.

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“Using the fake email address, the co-conspirators allegedly deceived and directed the University to wire a payment of more than $1.9 million to a bank account controlled by an individual working under the direction of defendants. Upon receiving the payment, the co-conspirators allegedly laundered the stolen proceeds through a series of financial transactions designed to conceal the fraud.”

Adeagbo also conspired with others to defraud individuals, local governments and a college in Houston, Texas.

Between November 2016 and July 2018, Adeagbo allegedly conspired with others to take part in cyber-enabled business email compromises to steal more than $3 million from victims in Texas. Adeagbo targeted local government entities, construction companies and a Houston-area college, among others.

He and his co-conspirators registered domain names that looked similar to legitimate companies. They then sent emails from those domains, pretending to be employees at those companies, according to the charges. Adeagbo and his co-conspirators deceived those customers into sending wire payments to bank accounts they controlled.

The Eastern District of Virginia is charging Egbinola with wire fraud and money laundering.

According to a criminal complaint issued by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, from September 26, 2018, to December 26, 2018, Egbinola allegedly conspired with others to defraud a Virginia-based university.

Egbinola and co-conspirators created and used a fraudulent email account that incorporated the name of a construction company that had a large ongoing contract with the university. Using this email account, Egbinola and co-conspirators deceived the university into transferring $469,819.49 to a bank account they controlled. The money was quickly laundered and transferred overseas through numerous transactions.

FBI investigation showed that Egbinola repeatedly accessed the email account used to defraud the Virginia university.

UK authorities arrested Adeagbo, Echeazu and Egbinola on April 23, 2020. The US ordered their extradition in September 2021. The three filled appeals, but the UK High Court rejected them on July 12, 2022.

Echeazu and Egbinola face up to 20 years in prison if convicted for their crimes, while Adeagbo faces up to 40 years if convicted for his crimes perpetrated in North Carolina and Texas.

FIJ

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