Before he met his waterloo some months ago, 30-year-old Hope Olusegun Aroke lived in the elite 1004 Housing Estate, Victoria Island, Lagos.
Aroke, an undergraduate in a Malaysian university, had the world at his beck and call, as he could afford just about anything that meant class.
For him, provision was probably just another successful scam away. And the race to maintain the social status that fraud had allegedly earned him could never end.
In his garage was a fleet of posh cars and SUVs, all of Mercedes-Benz brand. Though a tenant, he successfully outshone the status of his co-residents.
To many, the young man had done well for himself by a dint of hard work.
In some sense, Aroke was working hard, but as a suspected serial scammer.
His busy neighbours barely noticed his unusual schedule, but many were irked by his exceptional flamboyant lifestyle.
Most times, when neighbours were out to work, Aroke stayed indoor in company with other young men, who were later discovered to be his fraud cell suspects.
These young men included his apprentices and internet scam partners.
The operation that marred Aroke’s merry-making living would have shot up his net worth by several notches.
Going by the revelation of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, he had successfully carried out the scam operations worth N55m on unsuspecting members of the public. He, however, became unfortunate while trying to conceal the nature of the proceeds by converting it to foreign currency in partnership with Ibrahim Tafida, a Bureau de Change operator.
He was eventually nabbed by the team of the EFCC in Lagos.
Last year, 25-year-old Sunkanmi Odewale, a 200-level undergraduate of Mechanical Engineering, Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ogun State, a suspected fraudster, breezed into an automart and bought a Toyota Venza for N4m.
Before, he was picked up in Ibadan, Oyo State, three months ago, he was alleged to be notorious for regularly swindling unsuspecting members of the public via the internet.
His N4m Toyota Venza was the latest of his collections of luxury toys allegedly acquired from the proceeds of cyber crimes.
He, however, forfeited it and other valuables worth millions, which were seized during the arrest.
The EFCC said he was currently facing prosecution.
Other kingpins in cyber crime in Ibadan, Oyo State, according to EFCC, are 300 level students, Olowofola Tolu and Ekundayo Damilola, both of Lead City University, Ibadan. They are studying Economics and Computer Sciences respectively.
They were alleged to be the brains behind successful cyber crimes in the state before they were arrested around Oluyole Estate extension in Ibadan.
Both of them made good money from the business such that they paraded exotic cars among other things.
Other boys believed to hold the area in terms of cyber crimes operations and training of intending members according to EFCC are Adelabu Kolawole, HND II student of Purchasing and Supply Department, Ibadan Polytechnic and Bankole Fisayo, Ordinary Diploma II student of Marketing Department, Osun State Polytechnic, Iree. Their valuables running into tens of millions of naira were seized by the EFCC, which said that they were all being prosecuted.
Saturday PUNCH’s investigation found that more young people particularly undergraduates, now have the wherewithal to afford luxury items such as exotic cars, live in hotels for weeks, buy classy homes and throw lavish parties where expensive brands of wines and spirits are offered. They also travel to choice countries of the world and frolic with the hottest girls in town.
They live in such affluence that will make an average worker with decades of meritorious service cringe.
Saturday PUNCH learnt that usually, they are undergraduates, predominantly young men enrolled to study different courses in both Nigerian and foreign tertiary institutions.
These undergraduate scammers and internet fraudsters are the current toast of their various campuses.
Their friends, course mates and distant admirers, especially the ladies, all wish to grab a portion of their well-advertised wealth.
Using the internet and other information and communication, these savvy youths, often successfully dupe greedy people. Laptops, mobile telephones, flash drives, external hard drives, printers and so on, are their work implements.
Since they usually don’t operate from an identifiable office or from fixed residential addresses, they cart away many people’s financial fortunes forever without pointing a gun or being physically present.
They operate most times through a network of connections across country borders, making it possible for a person to fall victim at any location.
Saturday PUNCH’s investigation found that the colony of internet fraudsters, also known as Yahoo Yahoo, is growing to match the dynamism in information and communication technology.
This also poses greater challenge to crime detecting agencies in Nigeria such as the EFCC.
During some sting operations based on internet-prompted information, the EFCC recently arrested another five suspected fraudsters in Enugu State.
They are: 27-year-old Uche Nwakor; 30-year-old Oluchukwu Ejikeme; 28-year-old Ifeanyi Ejikeme; 30-year-old Nnamani Ikechukwu; and Ibe Kodili.
They were arrested at their expensive houses at No 26 and 42, Chimaobi Uba Street, GRA, Enugu.
The team is said to be “serial scammers,” having defrauded several victims.
Items seized from them where they were perfecting how to get the next victim are: eight exotic cars, nine laptops, 21 mobile phones, internet routers, drivers’ licenses and international passports.
Two months ago, the game was over for notorious internet fraudster, Wale Olaide, who specialised in defrauding members of the public through bank credit alerts.
Popularly called Wale Dollar in his clique, he had great tentacles as his business transversed the shores of Nigeria.
Although he had successfully executed bigger deals, which had earned him a comfortable life, he came crashing over a N5m deal involving two brothers Abdulhamid Abubakar, based in Nigeria and Hashim Abubakar based in Togo. They are both into BDC business.
Under the pretext that he wanted to do genuine business with them, he contacted the Togo-based operator, asking for his Nigerian bank account number, which he authorised his brother to give him. Olaide was supposed to pay in N5m to purchase the CFA Francs equivalent.
But when he got the account details, rather than send the money as agreed, he sent a false credit alert notifying the BDC operators that his account had credited at the Seme border branch and so he released the equivalent to him.
He was shocked to find out the next day that his bankers couldn’t trace such payments made into his account.
The EFCC said it took investigative initiative to arrest Olaide, who it described as “a member of the deadly syndicate involved in duping unsuspecting members of the public.”
It described fraudulent credit banking notification as a new trend in criminality by fraudsters and warned the public to be careful.
The EFCC Ag. Head, Media and Publicity, Wilson Uwujaren, told Saturday PUNCH that it was not in the character of fraudsters to buy lands or build houses.
He said, “They seldom even buy houses or have permanent addresses because of the nature of their activities. They often spend money on exotic cars, throw parties and generally squander the money on things that are not fixed. All the people arrested for such crimes are usually made to face the law.”
Uwujaren said there were signs that could put one on the guard. “If for instance somebody you have never met in person begins to pester you about your personal banking details online, chances are that the person may be a potential scammer.
“Also when a total stranger begins to make business proposal that look too good to be true, you better watch it,” he said.
He said a good number of scammers had been prosecuted and jailed; others had to flee the country to neighbouring countries. He however said that there was still more work to be done.
He said EFCC’s conviction profile was dominated by internet and advance fee fraud cases, adding that the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Related Offenses Act 2006 prescribed a minimum of seven and maximum of 20 years jail term for advance fee fraud offenses.
He admitted that scammers were mainly youngsters but not limited to any social strata and educational backgrounds.
An inside source, who understands the mode of operation of internet fraudsters told our correspondent that the commission depended mainly on raids until it had a breakthrough in technology.
The EFCC source, who preferred to remain anonymous, said the technology called Eagle Claw, was designed by a young Nigerian, who landed in the EFCC net after he was deported from India some years ago for successfully hacking the country’s military website.
He said the commission employed his services to help it understand the workings of internet fraudsters and he eventually designed a technology with some programmed language that sniffs and detects mails suspected to be from fraudsters.
“Once our technology sniffs those codes, the mail is hijacked and we start investigation from there.
“Under the former administration, EFCC was able to arrest 2,000 internet scammers using Eagle Claw; it runs like a laboratory.
“There was a case when our team of investigators acted like a ‘white man’ (prospective victim) and we kept communicating with the fraudster until we fixed the Abuja Sheraton Hotel as meeting point and he simply walked into a net.
“There are other technologies that we are using to combat cyber crimes as they evolve.”
On their mode of operation and recruitment procedures, the source said they operate in cells (splinter groups) and each cell has a leader, who trains the new entrants.
He said the apprentices usually lived with their leaders in big mansions, where they served them, while undergoing the rudiments of the game.
He said gone were the days when fraudsters used the cyber café, because of the fear of being raided, adding that they now operate from homes, which makes it difficult to arrest them, except by intelligence report.
He added that the advent of private use of the internet through modems and other ISP channels had made it difficult to trace scammers without an up to date technology.
He said that members of the public could identify a fraudster by some traits, even though they operate by nick names.
“If you see young people living in questionable affluence today and appear broke tomorrow.
“If he offers to sell his N5m car to you at N1.5m and the next week he has a bigger car, suspect him. Most times when they don’t have a victim to milk, they run out of cash and quickly sell their valuables to continue to live big.
“If the same young man stays at home when people should be at work, hosting several girls in his apartment, watch him.
“If he usually moves with some other group of young men, who most likely stay the night in his apartment and having so many ICT gadgets, watch him.”
He however said that what is important is for members of the public to be careful and not to be given to greed, as some well- educated people and even top government officials had at some time, fallen prey to them.
Asked if it is true that Yahoo plus brand (charm-backed) assisted the fraudsters in their criminal activities, he said, “I don’t believe that they charm people, I think they are just internet smart people who work with technology to people’s disadvantage.”