Looking-out for scammers exploiting COVID-19 pressure to perpetrate fraud

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It is pathetic that Nigeria is known to be home to dubious urchins who are given to the craft of manipulating every opportunity to mischievously take advantage of well meaning Nigerians. The increase in the record of such experiences over the years have continued to project the Country in a negative light before other nations in  the global community. This constitutes one of the sore reasons why nationals of Countries across the international community now perceive average Nigerians as potential threats, who may not be trusted, but have to be related with on the basis of suspicion. While in reality many Nigerians are not so, the increasing reports of such misdemeanor have continued to wreck havoc on the perception Nigerians attract from foreign nationals.

No less is expected here at home! The virtue of trust is apparently giving way as many are finding it difficult in their dealings with fellow citizens to effect transactions without giving the benefit of doubt. Suspicion and over-carefulness now constitute the basis on which many citizens relate with one another across boards. The menace is hitting deep into every inch of the fabrics of the Nigerian society.

With Coronavirus surfacing as a destabilising circumstance, it is not out of place that the mischievous crafters are also putting their cards on tables as usual, in effort to craft dubious means and channels by which they can exploit the current pressure to make a living by crafty dealings. Reports of several links using Coronavirus subjects to access people’s data systems to defraud them have been recorded in recent times. There are cases of those who are falsely claiming to be in possession of medications that cure the virus, all just to defraud fellow citizens. The use of the internet has become a major tool in their palms to galvanise their sordid crafts.

In a prediction of the trend that may sprout-out of the pressure accompanying the Coronavirus circumstances in the Country, the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, had last week warned that cybercrime and fraud may increase on account of the lockdown imposed across the country in effort towards  containing the coronavirus pandemic. According to him, intelligence obtained from the International Criminal Police Organisation headquarters in Lyon, France, had indicated that Internet fraud and other criminal activities were expected to be on a rise at this time. It is no gainsaying that no less would be expected and experienced in Nigeria.

In a statement by the force spokesman, DCP Frank Mba, in Abuja, on Sunday, 29th March, Adamu had hinted that scammers in Nigeria and other parts of the globe have begun to create and set up fraudulent websites, e-commerce platforms, fake social media accounts and emails, claiming to sell and deliver COVID-19 medical products. In response to the development, the IG said he had placed the Commissioner of Police in charge of the Interpol National Central Bureau, Abuja, on red alert. He explained that the NCB which hosts the cybercrime unit of the Force, would in the coming days work closely with other Interpol member states across the globe to carry out intense monitoring of the internet highway in the most ethical manner.

He said: “Specifically, intelligence obtained from the INTERPOL headquarters shows that scammers in Nigeria and other parts of the globe have begun to create and set up fraudulent websites, e-commerce platforms, fake social media accounts and emails claiming to sell and deliver (COVID-19) medical-products. In some cases, they use the names of prominent companies involved in the production and distribution of these items. Victims are then asked to pay via bank transfer.”

While the alertness and measures from the Police may be timely and helpful, it is more essential for Nigerians at this time to be hyper-sensitive and exceedingly cautious individually for personal safety and security. This is not the time to give room or pay attention to any form of malicious information linked to Coronavirus. Nigerians should be very skeptical to opening and assessing unconfirmed and suspicion links. It is important that people reaffirm the source of every suspicious link for the benefit of  doubt before assessing them. Operating on the standard of trial-and-error should be jettisoned at this time. Many who have engaged in dealings on such grounds in recent times have fallen prey to the mischievous crafters. Nigerians should not be in a hurry to respond to any message demanding them to supply confidential information, such as details of their bank accounts and BVN, as some fraudsters are now utilising the current ongoing palliative packages as a tool of exploitation to empty the account of unsuspecting Nigerians.

According to the security warnings of the IG, it is instructive that Nigerians be wary of scammers who use names of prominent companies to create fraudulent websites, e-commerce platforms, social media accounts and emails claiming to sell and deliver medical products. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) users should ensure proper back-up of online and offline files regularly and securely and use of strong passwords for securing emails and social media handles. Suspicious calls should be ignored at this time, while no effort should be spared at reporting calls purportedly emanating from a caller who pretends to be “a relative currently being treated at the hospital asking you to pay for the cost of the medical treatment by transferring money or by paying cash to fake public health representatives.”

It is important that Nigerians assist security operatives in intelligence gathering efforts and refuse keeping mute from reporting any related cases of fraud crafters which may lead to their arrest. The Police need to be guarded and be strictly disciplined in handling cases of arrest of suspects by ensuring they are made to face the wrath of the law for their kids to learn.