Smartphones are very common in Ghana. Despite the constant complains of economic hardship by its citizens, finding a smartphone that supports Facebook is an easy task. However, there are young men (and sometimes women) spending a huge percentage of their 24 hours in internet cafés. They basically live there, day and night.
Conversations around spending so much time in internet cafés have mostly been linked to being on Facebook and ‘chatting’. Deep down the situation, it is the entry-level point of online scamming, a scheme popularly known in Ghana as Sakawa.
One has to know their way around to find what they are looking for when it comes to Sakawa. It is a situation glaring at the nation in all corners but also hidden in its own way.
There are a lot of Facebook pages helping this business of online scamming boom.
Scammers have a lot of groups on Facebook where they trade skills and fake identities. There are Facebook profiles, pictures, the story to tell (something they call formats) and photo editing services all for sale in these secret groups.
Bank accounts are also traded when it comes to dealing with the money they get from scamming.
“Sometimes we come to check our Facebook and a lot of times something else,” a young man in a Ghanaian internet café tells Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop of Four Corners.
On why they have female names on their profiles, the young man refused to answer and walked away.
“Sometimes we just come here and get some money from the white men to get some food to eat. I mean some of them can give you 2000 UDS, 5000 USD, 5000 pounds and 5000 Australian dollars.”
The young man who had chats to show with men from Australia narrated how he and his victims sometimes have fun. The fun, he explains, involves sexting and showing naked parts of their bodies. In all this, he must keep his identity as a woman.
Kweku, a 27-year-old sells perfume for a living. The profit from selling perfume is in no way up to what he makes online.
“Basically, they call us ‘fraud boys’ or ‘game boys’ because we do fraud to get money. We scam.”
Kweku and his friend create fake identities to back their plans and make their bid.
“I am Johnny and I am a military man in the US. Sometimes I’m in Palestine, sometimes I’m in Iraq and we are helping to keep peace in that country because there’s a war going on and all that. So that’s my main occupation online. I search for clients. I want somebody to be my lover, my fiancé and all that.”
Kwaku’s friend explains what they mean by referring to what they term as their lovers, clients.
“The word client is used for people you meet online.” Asked if they like to use the word victim, the two said no as ‘victim doesn’t sound pretty’.
“A client is somebody, a business partner who will maybe bring money or something. That’s why we use the word client. Some are divorced and some have dead husbands and all that,” Kwaku explains.
The scammer’s current target is not fluent in English, he disclosed. She is a Mexican woman living in the United States of America. Kwaku explains he was lucky to find someone who is not highly educated.
His scam with this current victim started by making her fall in love with him and then he proposed to her. The Mexican accepted Kwaku’s proposal sending him $2000 as he needed some capital.
On a Skype call with this Mexican, Kweku emotionally tells her how he really wants to visit her. He explains his friend who promised him a plane ticket is avoiding him and that it is ‘really hard times’.
The Ghanaian lies that he wants her to see him but his camera for the video call is messing up. Kwaku assures the woman who is naked on the other side a call later that night to have fun.
Kwaku and his friend narrate their manipulations with emotional blackmail, a scheme that has worked for them in all of this.
“Sometimes you will be talking to the person and you can even feel pity for that person. Wow, this person. She’s crying and all that but you too you need money,” the Ghanaian tells Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop of Four Corners.
On whether Kwaku and his friend feel they are committing a crime, the two said ‘no’ in unison.
“I don’t see the crime because it’s online. I’m trying to get money and the same person is also trying to get money,” Kwaku said.
His friend adds, “The white people they came down here to colonize us, took what belongs to us. They send our great grandfathers there, mistreated them, treated them like slaves. You understand?”
“They did a lot of harm to them. They’ve done us bad before and we think it’s time to pay them back.”
The story by these scammers seems an easy task. But not always. For some, other measures need to be taken in order to win at all cost.
Nana Agradaa is a fetish priestess who gets paid to help some of these ‘café boys’ to manipulate people online and get what they want.
When the going in trying to scam gets tough, Nana Agradaa is the go-to option. All one needs is to pay their consultation and provide photos of their victim. The priestess confirms she gives out soups. When bathing with the soap, say what you wish for and your wishes will be granted.
On the topic of whether consulting a fetish priest works in scamming, only a scammer can confirm.
Scamming in Ghana has almost always been associated with the high unemployment rate in the country. Notwithstanding, the intelligence of the people who engage in it, cannot be underrated as Economic & Organised Crime Officer Abu Issah explains to Four Corners.
“Those who indulge in this as the perpetrators are mostly unemployed but they are very sharp. They are very intelligent because it takes someone with an intellect to sit down and even fancy how to get into this activity. And also, to blindfold or hoodwink someone into believing whatever story he is putting across,” Abu Issah said.
Abu Issah highlights the ‘big boys’ in this scamming business do not go to the internet café as the unemployed entry-level boys do. They stay in the comfort of their homes and operate.
Ghana’s Economic & Organised Crime Office, the FBI and Interpol are working hard to target cyber fraud in the country and its neighbouring countries in West Africa.