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Nigeria - Cybercrime

Nigerian con artist 'Mike' arrested for €54m in online scams

One of the largest ever cyber attacks is slowing global internet services after an organisation blocking "spam" content became a target, with some experts saying the disruption could get worse.
One of the largest ever cyber attacks is slowing global internet services after an organisation blocking "spam" content became a target, with some experts saying the disruption could get worse. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Files
Text by: Clea Broadhurst
8 min

A Nigerian behind an online fraud network which engineered scams worth more than 54 million euros has been arrested by Interpol in southern oil city of Port Harcourt Monday. His operations involved using malware to take over systems to compromise emails, as well as romance scams.

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Nigerian con artist 'Mike' arrested over 54 million euros online scams

People continue to fall for these scams because they're often very clever and elaborate scams that convince you that it is not a scam.

Indeed, they would have to be in order to con someone into paying... almost 14 million euros.

"They just modify email accounts or they ask companies to send them money. They gather information, what you can find on social networks," Nicolas Arpagian, the Academic Director of the "CyberSecurity Programme" at France's National Institute for Security, told RFI.

"Things like the declarations concerning the CEO, his name, if he's now travelling, if he's about to make new partnerships at the moment, then they can write an email which is quite precise, with accurate elements, that would incline the people who receive that email to obey and then send the money when they ask for a money transfer, in a specific bank account."

Arpagian said this is really common, especially in Africa.

"This is a very cheap, very low cost way of getting money, and one person can do that to hundreds, thousands people, it's very simple to do.

"That's why it's a very international way of getting money, it's absolutely illegal of course, but we can see in recent years that this is well-developped, especially in Africa, because they see that this is a huge opportunity to get money, all that while staying in Africa, no need to go near your victim, so this is why it's quite popular nowadays."

There's no way to prevent these scams from appearing in your mailbox.

However, the one thing you should not do is open a suspicious email, you should always check where it comes from, and if the sender has actually sent it.

Because that's the thing, this is not the result of an accident and it's not blackmail either. It really depends on, one, the accuracy of the information the con artist gives, and two, your willingness to trust such emails.

Experts say this is more and more likely to happen since our economy is moving online.

"As the digitalisation of the economy will grow, more and more people will be the targets of such attacks, because the user, and citizens, will find the services online, for them, it will be mandatory to do everything online, that could be e-commerce, e-banking, but also public administration. It means that you will have a lot of people who will become victims," Massimo Cappelli, who works at a security thinktank in Rome, the Global Cyber Security Center, told RFI.

"On the other hand, the old school crimes will change and transform itself in digital crimes. So that means that the bad guys will learn how to attack people online, and the easy way to do so is the email scam that they send... So I think that there will be a growing cybercrime activity."

But international agencies are also evolving, and they are catching on.

Proof of this is the major arrest by Interpol this week.

"Interpol has been working hand in hand with the private sector, security companies, to understand the mechanism, and the dynamics of these networks. They've been working with national law inforcement agencies in Nigeria," Danilo D’Elia, a researcher at the French organisation, Castex Chair of Cyber Strategy, told RFI.

And this is a good thing, it sends a message to cirminals, that cybercrime is not the wild west, where it's too easy to get money, but we need more and more examples of cooperation and we wlaso need to educate all citizens,"

"The first line of defense against this is education. It's not a silver bullet solution, but take few seconds, minutes, to understand the message of the email, what's behind it, to analyse whether this actually comes from your boss, your family or your bank. That's it."

The arrest was carried out with the support of Nigeria’s anti-fraud agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

The suspects face charges including hacking, conspiracy and obtaining money under false pretences.

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