QLD, Nigeria partner with industry to combat million dollar cybercrime

Lovesick Queenslanders still falling prey to Nigerian scammers.

Local victims of Nigerian online scams now have a new ally in the fight against fraud with a partnership between the Queensland Police Service, Nigeria's Economic Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and industry.

It is estimated by the Queensland Police that more than half a million dollars per month is leaving the state for Nigeria.

The industry-based forum will discuss Advance Fee Fraud (AFF) issues, which covers a variety of online fraud, including electronic banking to romance scams, will involve online dating agencies, travel and transport industries, online commerce industries, banking, and government departments coming together to share information.

This type of fraud is dubbed AFF because it doesn't just pertain to Nigeria. Since many people had heard of Nigerian letters, people are still willing to send money to Ghana as they think it's not a Nigerian scam. AFF is a type of fraud where people pay money in advance anticipating a return.

Detective Superintendent for the Queensland Police fraud and corporate crime group Brian J Hay said the existing joint operation has already resulted with nine people in Nigeria awaiting trial for fraudulent activities against Queensland residents.

"Unfortunately Queenslanders to this day continue to send millions of dollars overseas. In terms of numbers we see more money leaving our shores every day," Hay said.

"The offenders have changed their mode of operation and are focusing more on higher-volume and less value transactions. They are becoming far more technical in their application. We see them using black market Web portals and are working closely with other groups to assist the facilitation of these activities and unfortunately the biggest one is the romance scams. We see a great deal of energy being placed into victimizing online dating processes."

The forum will develop strategies to further protect the people of Australia and enhance the activities of the EFCC.

Hay said even this week he was on the phone convincing a person not to send any more money after $585,000 had already been sent.

"This person continued to believe that they were involved in an oil pipeline business venture with Nigerian government officials," he said. "I asked how the person knew they were Nigerian government officials - 'because they told me so'. Unfortunately this was an intelligent, articulate man, successfully self-employed with his own business and had fallen prey to the scams."

Hay said the rate of money leaving Australia is typically the same as Queensland.

"The dating scams are worst type as the people are emotionally distraught and it is the most rapidly evolving and is growing the fastest," he said.

This involves people's personal information being taken from dating Web sites and scammers making out to be perfect match and then siphoning money out of unsuspecting love seekers.

"They are very good at what they do, they are very articulate and convincing," he said. "As long as the money is there they will make the effort. It continues to be a problem and it needs to be addressed. And by a whole of government and industry approach we hope we can protect the community."

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Hay believes education will work, but the delivery of the message must be sustained.

"The most effective manner of that is through the media," he said. "When you look at how much money is leaving Australia it is unbelievable. Since last year the number of transactions are up by about 15 percent and certainly the money value we were averaging about half a million -- it is beyond that now. That's per month from Queensland to Nigeria."

Visiting Australia to speak at the AusCERT conference and partnership announcement was Nigerian EFCC Police officer Abdulkarim Chukkol.

"If you don't know where Nigeria is you may have received an e-mail from the country once," he said. "Contrary to popular belief Nigeria has a high literacy rate and most of the youth know how to use a computer. In the mid-90s the Internet came to the multinationals and over the years the ISPs were given licences and people are becoming aware of the Internet and it became easier to use."

With the proliferation of ISPs and cyber cafes, advance fee fraud (AFF) began to surface and is performed over the Internet instead of regular mail and faxes. Before the Internet came to Nigeria people were into fake lotteries, crude oil scams, and other contract-based scams giving the whole country a bad reputation.

"People don't go for this anymore because it takes a long time and the person may lose interest," he said. "When the Internet came it allowed them to create one letter and send it to millions of people. From there it has moved to phishing, romance scams, e-commerce scams, charity scams. Fake romance scams with pictures of models is now the most popular."

Chukkol said Nigeria does not yet have a cyber crime law but the bill is waiting to pass a second reading in the parliament.

"Several card fraud cases are connected to foreign hackers sites and fraudulent forums," he said. "There are hacker sites where you go in and trade this information. This was demonstrated to us and it's quite shocking."

Who are the perpetrators? Most of the people are between 18 to 30 years old and are active on the Internet. They live in university towers, especially in Lagos, and if they are not doing it they have friends that are doing it.

"From our experience most of the people that commit these crimes use a cyber cafe because it's quite cheap at about one dollar an hour," Chukkol said.

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Nigerian AFF scammers rely on their persuasive skills, use of fake documents, as well as the greed and guile of the victims to obtain money. And most scammers don't know the extent of the damage they have caused as they are mostly after money.

"If we don't take action it will be very embarrassing to the country." He said most of the victims are outside of Nigeria, but Nigerians also fall victim to the scams.

In September last year, the Nigerian police conducted operation Stop Payment -- a cooperation with foreign agencies to design and implement disruptive strategies.

"We don't have a criminal database in Nigeria and people can walk in to a Western Union and collect a few thousand dollars without any checks, but we are now collaborating with international delivery services and banks," he said.

Enforcement in Nigeria has led to dispersal of the fraudsters to Spain, the Netherlands, the UK, US, South Africa, and other neighboring countries.

Chukkol said the crack down has had a real effect. From 2003 to 2008, 281 people were convicted out of 336 charged with online scams and there has been a disruption of criminal activities at public Internet cafes.

"Operation Cyberstorm 1 was carried out in April 2008 in 23 cities in Nigeria with 136 suspects arrested and 780 computer systems recovered," he said. As it turned out, all of these are eBay scammers and the owner of the cyber cafe will be charged with aiding and abetting the crime.

The EFCC's work is having a positive impact as many of the "king pin" scammers are moving into other countries, according to Chukkol.

The Nigerian police are working with ISPs and cyber cafes to develop due care guidelines and prevent the abuse of their facilities by scammers, and compulsory registration of all ISPs, cyber cafes is now mandated in line with the Advance Fee Fraud Act of 2006.

Chukkol said the main challenges to preventing fraud include international cooperation which is still inadequate.