A recent Washington Post article explained that scam artists in Nigeria were beginning to feel the effects of the global recession. Apparently, their victims were holding on tighter to the little money in their wallets meaning it is harder to get these individuals to send out the requisite check or to collect on a dead dictator’s stolen monies or lottery winnings that the victim never actually played in. As a consequence, scammers were resorting to indigenous charms and medicines to increase their prowess and success. They were also working harder than ever to ensure that their chosen line of illegal business paid off for them. For all the hardships the recession has brought, it might just be the opportunity to steer victims clear of online scams regardless of their origin and give Nigeria a chance to overcome its reputation as the home of online scams.
Is it all about greed?
The article managed to be humorous at some points, and it definitely raised important issues. One scammer made an insightful declaration about his 'profession',
"I'm selling greed...You didn't apply for any lotto, and all of a sudden you just see a mail in your mailbox that you're going to win money? That means you have to be greedy."
While there are many scams which tug at heartstrings to complete the fraudulent act, alas, the more common denominator that underlies many online scams is, indeed, greed. Many will argue that there is nothing wrong with greed as it encourages risk taking and in many cases the spirit of entrepreneurship that fuels global capitalism and economic development. However, for all its 'benefits' such greed has been known to sometimes go very wrong when not based on solid information and sound decision making - the housing market burst in the U.S. economy is the latest example of this situation. Consequently, such greed encourages arguably normal individuals of all education levels and experience, to give their savings to a complete stranger in the senseless hope of making a financial killing.
Is greed policeable?
If the greed-selling scammer is correct that his business is essentially one of greed, and not chance as is the case for those who play the stock market, or spend their money to participate in actual lottery games, a key question becomes how to police/regulate such greed so as to limit the unnecessary loss of time and capital. Victims ultimately lose their hard earned money. The law enforcement organizations set up to prevent and/or catch those who participate in scams, all across the world, could be better applied and thus time and efforts are lost from that end of the largely complex scam-prevention equation. Policing the greed that underlies many of these scams could be beneficial on many levels.
Clearly, countries like Nigeria which, despite being far behind other locations, is a 'hotspot for online scams, still has many citizens meddling in scamming, have organizations like the EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission) to arrest and prosecute fraudsters. But, if a country like the U.S., with citizens that fall victim to many online scams, found a way to police and/or regulate participation, willingly or not, in scams, some progress could be made. For instance, every person who falls victim to an online scam and seeks the U.S. federal government's help in regaining their money could be required to pay a fee for that service. Likewise with Nigeria, whenever it captures a scammer and takes said scammer through the legal process, the scammer and scammee/victim should both pay a fee to the necessary agency that will facilitate the punitive process (upon the scammer) and the restorative process (upon the scamee seeking a return of their monies).
While this suggestion might seem extreme to some, it must be noted that so far, much has been done to stamp out scammers around the world with little success, thus making the introduction of a different approach to solving the problem worth considering. Additionally, it is not unusual for prohibitive fees to be attached to certain services or activities. For instance, in certain places, ambulatory care is paid for (or at least a 'contribution' is required) by those who make use of the service. Also, even though investors lose money n the stock market or on foreign stock exchanges, they still pay taxes to their home government. In such cases, the individual didn't do anything wrong, but is expected to shoulder some financial burden for their activities - using an ambulance or playing the stock market. Although these programs have not deterred people from using ambulances or buying stock, similar prohibitive fees could actually deter potential scamees/victims from giving away their personal information. Furthermore, just because many scammees/victims didn't do anything wrong requiring them to pay some fee to help have their finances restored could actually work in conjunction with continued educational campaigns to deter would-be victims from falling prey to scammers.
Take advantage of this opportunity
All interested parties can take advantage of the current economic realities to limit online scams. In addition to arresting and punishing scammers, Nigeria must become a larger partner in discouraging potential victims from succumbing to Nigeria-originating scams with advertising. By reaching out to potential victims, Nigeria will be able to illustrate that it is actually trying to help prevent online scamming. This could also help in restoring much of the nation's struggling reputation. However, nothing will do more good than for Nigeria to actually punish its crooks and criminals, regardless of their position or wealth, in the quest to reduce criminal activity, corruption and the still growing stereotypes surrounding the country. A true and verifiable commitment to anti-corruption will not only help improve the country's reputation but help build the credibility needed to educate and deter potential scam victims regardless of where they are from.
By Solomon Sydelle
Solomon runs the Nigerian Curiosity website
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