Social Media Fraudsters on the Prowl

Some people browsing in a cyber cafe

Fraudsters have discovered an easy way to make money by hacking into people’s Facebook accounts and thereafter use such accounts to dupe friends of their holders

|  By Vincent Nzemeke  |  Mar. 10, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT

CHRISTIANA Aduje, a civil servant in Abuja, had an embarrassing experience recently. A colleague of hers had called to know why she sent a Facebook message requesting for recharge cards when they had just been paid their monthly telephone allowance at her place of work.

“I initially thought it was a joke but when I logged on through my blackberry phone, I saw the message myself. Someone had hacked into my account and sent out messages claiming that I was stranded in Calabar and needed to raise money by selling recharge cards.”

Ngozi Braide

Aduje’s experience is similar to that of Suzan Ehigie, a youth corps member in Abuja. She woke up one morning and found an unusual electronic mail message on her phone from her uncle asking her to lend him some money. Being a technology savvy person, it was easy for Ehigie to suspect that her uncle’s account had been hacked because he had never asked her for such favours.

“I got an electronic message from my uncle, Augustine Udeh, saying he had a car waiting at the wharf for clearance and needed about N150, 000 to clear it. Knowing that he could not ask me for such favour, I called him to tell him that his account had been hacked. He had to change the password, but almost immediately, they gained access to it again and sent viral messages to all his contacts.”But it was too late as some of Udeh’s friends had already deposited money into the account number sent by the hacker.

Hacking into people’s mails and bank accounts happens every day in different parts of the country and portrays the rising trend of the ugly side of the social media platforms. When facebook, twitter, badoo and other social media services began, they were simply a platform for friends and relatives to bridge divides created by distance and stay in touch. But these days, they have become a veritable tool which  fraudsters use to dupe unsuspecting people of their hard- earned money.

In September 2013, Abiola Olojede, a Lagos State University graduate, allegedly cloned the Facebook accounts of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, minister of finance and coordinating minister of the economy, Abimbola Fashola , wife of the Lagos State Governor, Aisha Bala Muhammed, wife of the minister of the Federal Capital Territory and Jamilah Tangaza, Director, Abuja Geographical Information Systems. He used all the accounts to solicit money from unsuspecting members of the public.

Like Olojede, Chris Adogwu was recently featured on the crime page of a national newspaper. He was in police custody for allegedly hacking into a monarch’s facebook account. After several attempts to nab him failed, he was eventually arrested at a bank when he went to withdraw some money paid by one of his victims.

Chidi Onyekwere

According to a social media expert, Lillian Adoba, social network accounts are mostly hacked through phishing. “Victims get a mail or a post on their walls telling them to view something of interest on social media through a link. When they click on the link, it tells them to sign into their social network account or a social media application. Usually, these links do not lead to the real social media page.  When they submit their social network login credentials, they are submitting it to hackers.

“Another popular way to have social media accounts hacked is to use unsecured Internet connections or computers (virus or malware infected computers). Through this, hackers can hijack sessions and even lock the users out or change their passwords, sniff unencrypted passwords and have it sent to them through that same system, unknown to the computer user,” she said. Adoba also said that some people reveal too much about themselves on social media making their passwords easy to compromise.

Buttressing a similar point, Chidi Onyekwere, a computer scientist, said online identity theft is the fastest growing area of social media scam. “First is social hacking, where a person hacks into social network accounts and starts soliciting funds from the victim’s friends,” he said. According to him, soliciting is done in such a genuine way that the victim’s friends will come to his aid not knowing his identity had been stolen.

“The second way is through a duplicate identity where a hacker creates another profile or page like the victim’s and uses all his information (picture, school, date of birth etc). The hacker then looks for people on the network that have similar information and adds them. Friends who may not be aware of this scam accept  requests from the hacker, then the impersonation and solicitation begins,” he added.

Although the police and other law enforcement agencies are working hard to checkmate the trend, there is still much to be done. In a recent newspaper interview, Ngozi Braide, Lagos state police public relations officer, said the police have been making arrests in respect  of impersonation and social media crimes. She said the Special Fraud Unit which is directly in charge of making these arrests and charging the suspects to court has been very busy in various parts of the state.

Christy Aduje

In the same vein, government is also doing its part to see an end to cyber crimes. In 2005, ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, set up a 15-member committee to design solutions for Internet fraud and cyber-crime. The committee came up with a draft cyber-crime Act, and also formed the Nigerian Cyber-crime Working Group to accelerate the implementation of the research and to also assist the National Assembly in the passage of the Cyber-crime Bill.

In December 2013, the Federal Executive Council approved a draft bill for control and detection of cyber-crime. The core objective of the bill is to provide an effective framework for the prohibition, prevention, detection and prosecution of cyber-crimes in Nigeria. The cyber-crime bill recommends a jail term as punishment upon conviction, for Internet fraudsters. This has generated controversy in the online community as many Nigerians have said the bill was too harsh.

Gbenga Ogunmuyiwa, a digital media expert, said it was a welcome development, but urged government to  intensify efforts to prosecute social media fraudsters if the bill becomes law. “It is not just enough to pass these bills, government must ensure that social media fraudsters arrested are prosecuted and sent to jail if found guilty.”

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