LEKAN OLABULO and SHEHU BELLO went on the trail of Yahoo boys. They got a couple talking. And it was revealing.
OLUWASEUN Tomori (not real name), a 24-year-old graduate of a private university in Ondo State, finished his compulsory national youth service a few months back. He is self-employed and not doing badly. The only snag in his smooth journey to fortune is that he is fully into a world of crime known as Yahoo Yahoo. He knows Yahoo business is criminal but he will explain to you with flourish that he is a legit Yahoo, meaning that there are aspects of the crime business that are now considered legal!
Yahoo Yahoo crime, or internet crime, is as old as the coming of technology, though its popularity in Nigeria rose with the full introduction of GSM services in the country which has increased the usage of internet services, especially among the youth.
Despite the crackdown by the security agencies, particularly the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the crime is blossoming. Going by Seun’s confirmation, the operators are now getting more organised using networks and, by his admission, celebrities, especially those in the Nigerian film industry, popularly known as Nollywood, to evade the law.
The Yahoo Yahoo kingpin, who now operates mostly from Ilorin, Kwara State, detailed the method and style used in evading detection and arrest by the authorities.
“In this business, you need to be smart and sharp. Being a Yahoo boy is easy but it is also stressful as you need to be alert anytime a client messages you or is in need of your attention. Yahoo boys have been able to penetrate Nollywood and the music industry. Those artistes that you usually see that flaunt their wealth, you think some made it through what they do. No, big Yahoo boys evading being detected use the accounts of celebrities to wire money, which helps them in evading authorities and at times a Yahoo boy can also become a celebrity himself by appearing in films or releasing music track.
“For the film, we pay a lot of money, the one I was supposed to be involved in, we were told to bring more than N8 million and for the music, we pay writers to write for us and sometimes do the singing ourselves or just feature in it. It is just a means of stopping those ‘men in black’ and the ones with the red jacket from noticing us, as we all know how much influence artistes have in this country,” Oluwaseun said.
Another Yahoo ex-operative who graduated from a university in Ekiti State, Kolawole Idris (real names withheld), gave Saturday Tribune a deeper insight into the crime business, which started out as internet dating, popularly known as love scam.
He broke the “business,” into three broad forms, namely, legit Yahoo, Yahoo Yahoo and Yahoo Plus, the last one, he noted, being the most prevalent. Kolawole explained that when the crime started, it was just dating scam where you dupe victims from the Western world using a false identity. This form of the “business” is now known in the Yahoo world as legit.
Yahoo Plus, according to Kolawole, is an extension of legit with two different branches. One is known as Phising (pronounced as fishing), which is mainly about electronic fraud, while the other one is the Yahoo Plus that requires the use of magical powers, and killing for ritual purposes.
“One thing about being a Yahoo boy is that you must know how to lie and to compose good, sweet messages. To start Yahoo Yahoo, first you need a good network, computer and a good phone which should have either android or apple operating system. That is everything you need to be a Yahoo boy. After getting those, you now learn to compose good fake messages. It is just like learning a trade. A Yahoo boy also needs to learn the basics and it is from a dating site that you start. Sometimes, we get clients from Facebook and other social media platforms. After mastering the basics, you can upgrade yourself into what we call Phising or any other type of internet fraud your heart desires.
“Phising is a deceptive technique that is used to obtain sensitive information such as usernames, passwords and credit card details which most Yahoo boys do by passing themselves off as trustworthy individuals on the Internet or electronic communication. What they do is that they obtain people’s email addresses through the social media or through hacking, after which they message you, claiming that you need to upgrade your account. At times, they demand for password and username. And sometimes it could be a link that comes with the mail sent to you that they will ask you to click on. If you click on the link, your details, everything, will be obtained and used to withdraw money from your account. They have devised means of appearing like representatives of your bank or an organisation you are dealing with”.
“I was engaged in it while in school but I stopped after spending six months without gaining anything and decided to focus on my studies. Although I didn’t engage in the Phishing, I got connected to a guy who had a rented apartment. What they do in the apartment is to give you everything you need. But before starting, a contract will be signed which will state how money is going to be shared between you and him, that is, if you are fortunate to get money during the period. It is just like apprenticeship; when your contract ends, you leave and become your own boss. Everything depends on you.”
A source, an okada rider residing in Akute, outskirts of Lagos, told Saturday Tribune that the number of Yahoo boys in the community is increasing as most of them tend to now relocate to the area as operating within the city comes with a lot of harassment from the police and miscreants.
“This is repatriation. Money stolen from us by the white men is what those guys are getting back. Akute is becoming the home of Yahoo boys. They are relocating here and doing their thing without any form of harassment from the police or miscreants that are always seen on the streets of Lagos,” the source said.
Asked about his connection to the ‘business’, the okada rider said “those who trust me usually send me to withdraw money and I get paid handsomely for that. But those who don’t know me well always go with me to collect the money and then give it to me to keep after leaving the bank, as the police don’t search an okada man.”
It was also observed by Saturday Tribune in Ikorodu, Ketu and Akute that parents appear to encourage their children in the illicit business. Residents disclosed that no parent had been seen to express concern about their children coming into sudden wealth.
A staff member of a new generation bank told Saturday Tribune that banks have a way of noticing Yahoo boy who are usually assisted by corrupt bankers to avoid detection.
“In the bank where I work, we have a unit set aside to detect these people. If we notice that your account doesn’t correlate with your status, we do our findings and if we find anything suspicious, we forward the details to the EFCC for further investigations,” he said.
Saturday Tribune’s investigations also revealed connivance between the fraudsters and bank officials. Some of the officials are said to collect a large percentage of whatever is sent to the fraudsters. It was alleged that Yahoo boys in Lagos are now fond of a particular branch of a new generation bank in a neighbouring state (identity withheld). According to an insider, “this is because they are sure of being attended to without fear of being handed over to the security agencies.”
A friend to a popular Yahoo boy in the Ikotun area of Lagos revealed that in the past, the operators were always arrested in the process of withdrawing their money but that is not the case now as “that was when bankers were afraid of the EFCC.” He went further: “What they do now is to have their money paid through a particular bank where they have allies who pay them part of the money and then help themselves to the rest of the loot.”
The branch of the said bank is said to be frequented by most internet fraudsters in Lagos and Ogun states.
A bank official who served as a shield for Yahoo boys reportedly made a lot of money, a situation which prompted him to resign and set up one of the biggest restaurants and bars in his area. The man was said to have kept some management staff members of the bank in the loop in the course of his dealings with the Yahoo boys.
The commander of the Rapid Response Squad (RRS), Olatunji Disu, an Assistant Commissioner of Police, whose outfit is responsible for investigating and tracking internet fraudsters in Lagos, described claims that the criminals are hiding under popular personalities to evade arrest as incorrect. The police chief said the law is not a respecter of anybody and anybody who violates it would be arrested and prosecuted. “What is important is to establish a case against a wrongdoer and such a person will be arrested and made to face the law. Nobody is too big to face the law,” Disu said.
President, Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN), Ibinabo Fiberesima, in her response to the alleged shielding of Yahoo boys by celebrities, said “I am not aware of such an allegation but if such a thing exists and any of our members is caught, he or she will be suspended or expelled from the Guild.”
There are individuals that are widely acknowledged as Yahoo grandfathers. They include multi- millionaires accused of strings of international advance fee fraud.
Nigerian youths seem to be following in the footsteps of these individuals in the age of the Internet with mostly university undergraduates, and even secondary school students, engaging in it.
With different nomenclatures like Yahoo Yahoo, G boys or Yahoo boys, the illegal business got its name from one of the earliest messaging apps, the Yahoo Messenger, a product of the Yahoo! Inc., an American multinational technology company. It became prevalent in the late 90s and the 21st century when the accessibility of Internet was made possible with the liberalisation of the telecommunications industry by the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
The Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu, said recently that the country lost N127 billion yearly to internet fraud across all sectors of the economy. The illegal activity, according to him, was becoming more popular among the country’s over 93 million Internet users.