Computer Crime Research Center


West Africa cybercrime summit targets Nigerian scam

Date: December 06, 2010

Microsoft and government agencies are hosting the first-ever cybercrime summit in West Africa this week to tackle what are best known as Nigerian scams.

Known more officially as advance-fee fraud, Nigerian or “419” scams generally come in the form of spam sent to thousands of e-mail addresses. A scammer deceives victims by saying they stand to receive a lot of money if they contribute a smaller amount up front.

The most infamous examples usually involve a false Nigerian prince who offers victims a percentage of some fortune — usually millions of dollars or gold bullion — that must be kept in an overseas account. If hooked, the user is asked to send a smaller amount — perhaps $100,000 — to open up a Nigerian bank account. The nonexistent fortune, of course, is never sent.

Though Snopes says Nigerian scams are nothing new, they have skyrocketed since the advent of the Internet. Last year, a Microsoft-commissioned survey of 5,000 people found that more than 2 percent had fallen victim to advance-fee fraud.

In Nigeria — the most well-known origin of 419 scams, but not the only one — the practice is known as yahoo-yahoo. Earlier this year, Microsoft sponsored the song and music video “Maga No Need Pay,” a collaboration by a slew of Nigerian pop stars (see video below).

The West Africa Cybercrime Summit, which ran Tuesday through today, was hosted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Microsoft.

“This is an important issue for Microsoft,” Bill Harmon, associate general counsel for Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit, wrote in a blog post today. “We work hand-in-hand with international stakeholders on programs to fight Internet fraud in West Africa, and we are proud to co-sponsor this event with the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.

We believe in empowering individuals with the knowledge and resources necessary to make good choices and take active steps to enhance the integrity of the Internet marketplace.”

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