Beyond the “Letter Scam”: An Analysis of Cybercrime Techniques among Youth

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Published on International Journal of Social, Politics & Humanities
Publication Date: April, 2020

Adedeji Oyenuga
Department of Sociology, Lagos State University
Nigeria

Journal Full Text PDF: Beyond the “Letter Scam”: An Analysis of Cybercrime Techniques among Youth (Beyond the “Nigerian Letter Scam” in Lagos Metropolis).

Abstract
The evolving global dependence on the Internet is marred by new waves of crimes. Although there have been studies on the Nigerian Letter Scam, the other techniques have been unexplored. This study examined the different methods of cybercrime. The study adopted the diffusion of innovation and space transition theories. The study design was exploratory involving the use of qualitative methods of data collection. Four localities with the preponderance of cybercrime in Lagos State were purposively selected: Surulere, Ikotun, Badagry and Bariga. Forty In-depth Interviews and eight case studies were employed to collect data from youth involved in cybercrime that were selected through guided referral in all selected localities. Through participant observation, youth involved in cybercrime interacted with repeatedly over four years. Data were also collected from secondary sources such as scam emails. The paper posited that the other techniques often used include: Next-of-kin (third party claim of properties, usually money), Classified (false sale and shipping of goods) and Western Union (Re-swindling of victims). However, dating (sweetheart fraud) was the safest and most enduring. Newer cybercrime techniques moved from one area to another via interaction at social avenues. These techniques have been sustained by increasing complexity of the Internet.

Keywords: Internet, new waves of crimes, Nigerian Letter Scam, preponderance of cybercrime, observation & cybercrime techniques.

1. Introduction
The Internet is an outstanding innovation that has facilitated so many positive functions in society. Unfortunately, it also poses a threat to the equilibrium of society and the world in general. The Internet gave birth to “cybercrime” and invariably “cybercriminals”. According to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Crime Commission (2004), cybercrimes are criminal activities which use or take place through communications technology, including the Internet, telephony and wireless technology. It is a term that encompasses a variety of offences associated with the use of information and communication technology. This term is synonymous with the term electronic crime (e-crime). Cybercrimes differ from most terrestrial crimes in four ways: they are easy to learn how to commit, they require few resources relative to the potential damage caused, they can be committed in a jurisdiction without the perpetrator being physically present, and they are often not illegal (McConnell International Survey, 2000). As such, cybercrime has become one of the major security issues for the law enforcement community and the world in general.
According to Kaspersky (2008), cybercriminals are an integral part of our social structure and have naturally appeared in the virtual world like their non-criminal counterparts. The presence of cybercriminals has become more pervasive today because the freely growing online exchange of money and data has created an increasingly tempting target. The cybercrime ecosystem is close to maturity in the world and Nigeria as part of the global village. Cybercriminals freely and openly buy and sell malicious codes. They range from petty fraudsters who steal small sums in large quantities to individuals who attempt to steal large sums of money at one time. For instance, as reported in Zero Tolerance (2006), a publication of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in Nigeria, a retired civil servant, along with two other accomplices, made the sum of USD I, 714,080 from a German citizen, Klaus Wagner, through a gradual process.
The contributions of the Internet to development have been marred by the evolution of new waves of crime. The Internet has become an environment where the most lucrative and safest crimes thrive. The success of cybercrimes has been attributed to the invisibility of the perpetrators (McAfee, 2007). The Internet crime report by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (2007) shows that the total amount of dollar lost to Internet fraud in the United States in 2006 was $198.44 Billion. The Nigerian “letter fraud” represents only 1.7 per cent loss, but a median loss of $5,100 per complaint. Seventy-four per cent of the complainants said they were contacted through email. This represents the highest average loss. The report further stated that some $240 million was lost to Internet fraudsters in 2007 and this shows that this figure is $40 million higher than the reported losses in 2006. This is an indication that cybercrime is growing. As such, cybercrime by Nigerians has gained recognition at the global level. However, there is a shortage of studies on this burgeoning situation with a specific focus on youth involved in Nigeria. Studies like Howard (2001), Furnell (2002) and Kshetri (2010) which focused on cybercrime primarily concentrated on situations in the western world.

Chawki (2009) and Ebenezer (2014) reveal that letter scam in Nigeria is an ancient form of crime that is merely facilitated by the Internet. The first documented case of letter scam was the “Spanish prison scam” dating back to 1588 (Lee, 2016). The letter scam became popular in Nigeria in the 1980s after the collapse of the Nation’s oil market (Chawki, 2009; Smith, 2007). In the beginning, the letter scam depended on the postal system. Today, it is highly facilitated by the use of the Internet (Tive, 2006). The scammers frequently work in the cybercafé (Longe and Chiemeke, 2008) and most times depend on the broadband system of the Internet (Kshetri, 2010) and use established formats of letters associated with recent occurrences. In light of the above, this paper examined the other categories of cybercrime; the evolutions of these cybercrime techniques and the prevalence in Lagos State.

2. Methods
The study utilised qualitative techniques in data generation. The qualitative approach allows the researcher to gain valuable insights through the subjective narratives of the respondents by giving us clearer understanding of the participants’ perspectives. This ensures that data are rich in narratives and experiences.
The study was conducted in Lagos State as a primate state in Nigeria. Four localities were purposively selected from the stratified localities in Lagos State based on digital divide. The study therefore, selected Surulere, Bariga, Ikotun, and Badagry in this regard.
The youth involved in cybercrime is the unit of analysis. The study categorised youth involved in cybercrime as individuals who were aged between 15 and 30 years and engaged in cybercrime. A total of 48 were selected through guided referral method that were aided by other youth and cybercafé managers.
Forty In-depth interviews (IDI) were conducted with youth involved in cybercrime (including those in the nests of the enforcement agencies) and were selected through snowballing, informal personal interaction and observation as sampling frame could not be compiled. The choice of the selection process was based on the fact that a familiar and conducive environment must be created for youth involved in cybercrime in order for them to divulge relevant information aside from the establishment of a relationship of trust. Eight case studies of successful youth involved in cybercrime were also conducted. In addition to the above. The secondary source of data were scam e-mails collected from potential victims of Internet scam and email correspondences with youth involved in cybercrime.
The qualitative data generated through IDI and case studies were analysed with the use of content analysis and ethnographic summary that was enhanced with computer analysis.

3. Results
3.1 Cybercrime Techniques
Results from the fieldwork revealed that cybercrime is not just one crime; instead, it is a body of several crimes (all computer and Internet compliant). These crimes are time-determined, and some are even area-determined. These criminal opportunities were presented as soon as the technology of Internet diffused into society. These techniques also change with time. The techniques, as revealed by the study include:
a. Dating
This technique is also known as “sweetheart swindling”. It is perhaps the oldest surviving technique. This technique involves developing love or romantic relationship with an online friend, usually White, in any part of the world. Through this method, the perpetrators lure and ensure that the “client” gets carried away by attention, love, and trust. After serious commitment, promises, and evidence to prove that the “client” is carried away by the relationship, the perpetrators begin to make demands. The popular dating sites include Yahoo Personal, Mate, Tagged, Black Planet, My Space, Facebook, Singlesnet, Pinwall, Adam 4 Adam, Gay Romeo, Jehovah Witness, Germany FriendFinder, Spanish FriendFinder, Denmark FriendFinder, Christian Singles, Jewish, Cupid Bay, Vibes Connect, Million Match Date, Top Dating and Love Town among others. It is also done by sending bulk messages to people after generating their email addresses online. This technique requires timing and a lot of dedication. It also requires Internet Protocol (IP) Address manipulation for some sites to open.
Dating is about the safest of these techniques. With dating, the YICC will still engage in identity theft. For example, a YICC will adopt a name from a credit card tested on a forum, create an email address with the card, and then download images of other persons. The YICC then merges the image with the name to create a new identity online. The YICC may go as far as creating profiles on social networking sites to even substantiate this new identity.
According to one of the respondents:
Dating involves telling lies and deceiving your client (lover). You can tell him/her that your mother is seriously ill and she needs to be operated upon, and this would cost a lot of money which you don’t have (IDI/19/YICC/November 2011).
Another said:
Dating online is to make love proposals to supposed individuals who most times are gullible, depressed, and lonely. These individuals are usually women that are above 40 years of age. It requires the change of identity, and as such, those that are involved in dating would have several identities online at the same time, depending on the age of the potential victim (IDI/18/YICC/November 2011).
Another also said:
Dating is the safest cybercrime to perpetrate- no one can arrest you for collecting money from your sweetheart. You may not make so much, but you are sure that you are safer than those doing other ones. (IDI/24/YICC/November 2011)
The study revealed that everyone has the desire to be loved, especially lonely people. It was also gathered that the Whites are easily deceived. Data collected also showed that the perpetrators who are males usually act as females online—they use female pictures and names and when they need to talk on the phone, they give the phone to a female. This is when the female acts as a tool for perpetrating online sweetheart fraud.
An accessible format of the bulk email is:
My name is Miss Coxy 24 years old and never married. I saw your profile today, and after going through it many times, I made up my mind to contact you as my friend. So I want you to write back to me through my email address so that I will give you my picture for you to know me well. (coxyspence_william@hotmail.com) I hope to see your mail. Miss Coxy.
Another tactic used in this technique is telling their client they want to come over to his country and he should send money for the ticket, and every other thing needed to get there. This is usually done by the youth involved in cybercrime that poses as a female.
a. Classified
This technique involves buying and selling of goods online. Some of the goods traded by perpetrators include laptops, phones, shoes, puppies, electronics, refrigerators etc. Usually, these goods are presented to be sold in bulk and at cheaper rates. The perpetrators put online a contact address that may be an e-mail address. When an interested buyer contacts the e-mail and negotiation is completed, he/she would be asked to make an up-front payment that is usually more than 50% of the total worth of the goods, he will also be asked to pay for delivery charges and other charges, and several interested buyers make this payment but never get the goods. The above is just one of the many examples. The word “classified” means it is “endless”, “cannot be disclosed”, and “cannot be understood”. This is perhaps the simplest to understand. This technique is common in Ikotun, Surulere and Bariga but not really in Badagry. It is popular in these areas because most of the youth in these areas are more mobile in terms of social interaction and the areas are accessible to other parts of the state easily. They use the opportunity to learn from one another during these visits. A majority of them are in the higher institutions, where they can create the avenue to interact, learn, and also know newer techniques. In essence, these techniques are products of diffusion. One will only know about the techniques if there had been previous interaction with another person who knows it.
A popular format of classified may go thus:
Goodman Co., Ltd.
5f Kdx Nagoya Sakae Building,
5-3 ,4,sakae Naka-ku Nagoya,
Aichi 460-0008 Japan
Phone +8821644416705
fax.+ 8133 667 8311
www goodmankk com

RE: BE OUR REPRESENTATIVE IN NIGERIA/AFRICA
I am delighted to inform you that the above named company is a
manufacturing company which is based in Tokyo Japan We manufacture advance hospital equipments (AHE), computer accessories, local glasses/lens, and microchips. Presently, the company wishes to come down to Africa/Nigeria, as we have been made to understand from the Chamber of Trade and Commerce in here that mineral resources are sold in Nigeria. We want to procure raw materials and if possible site our annex office/industry in your country due to the nearness of the raw material on your good recommendation. Our humble purpose of contacting you is to make sure the company does not fall into awful hands in Africa as we like to come through you, because we have not been to Nigeria before. We also want you to be the company’s representative concerning the location of our annex office/industry, which is solely going to be under your supervision. You shall aid the process of construction and incorporation and my company shall go into bilateral relationship personally with you. We shall come with letters of memorandum of understanding for your official endorsement.
We implore you to assist our company in confirming raw materials by contacting this company (below) in Nigeria to enquire the availability and indigenous price of the raw material.
The Nigerian company is:
Golden Stones Mining Co., Ltd
Jos Plateau (West Africa)
Local Miners – Engr. Mustapha Momoh
Tel:+234 818 0545 996
The company ability was recommended from the Economic desk of the Nigeria High Commission in Tokyo Japan as a local miner who deals on this mineral in industrial quantity as advertised also by the company in the International Local Miners Brochure when they attended exhibition in Tokyo Japan 2009. Please take note of our specification and price data.

Product required – TANTANLITE SOLID MINERAL
Description – PURE WHITE IN COLOR
Size – SOLID LIKE SUGAR CUBE
Int’1 standard scale- 5 PIECES = 1UNIT
Int’1 Price per unit – US$1,900
Quantity required – 5.500 UNITS
NOTE:
On your contact to Engr. Mustapha Momoh, with the above telephone number for inquiries on our behalf, you may not disclose to him that foreigners will be coming for procurement to avoid possible increase of their prices above the International standard price my company is willing to buy. Beware this was the system with our previous dealers in Afghanistan before the recent turmoil that led to the availability fall. The board of directors unanimously agreed that if we can get an indigenous confirmation of substantial quantity of the raw material and most especially- fair price we shall endorse 7% commission of the total purchase for you as our host representative for the first time. It is important to inform you of the continuity of this transaction because we’ll be buying the product four-month intervals for five good years through you then we can discuss how to get landed properties for the establishment of our annex office through you in Africa. We will also like to speak with you on telephone we there for require your direct telephone number.
Best regards.
Dr. Kenji Murase
Group Managing Director (GMD)/Auditor
+8821644416705

b. Next of Kin Format:
In this format, the perpetrator, acting as a bank manager, sends an email to the client (the person to be victimized) that he or she has been selected as the son or daughter of a late millionaire who had a very large account with his bank, and since his death, nobody knows about the account he was operating with them, so they should both strike a deal of converting the money which is in several million dollars into the client’s account. Therefore, the client would have to pay for documents and reactivate the account with more money. One popular method of writing the email is:
Hello Sir,
My compliment to you and your entire household. I am Ibrahim Razak Kumar a citizen of LIBYA and I am a male of 20 years old of age. Please sir pardon me for bursting into your privacy at first, I beg you in the name of GOD I need your listening ear to my request and it as a result of my painful sorrowful life that we are living after the war in LIBYA.
In the process of the war in my country Libya, I lost my parents in a GUN SHOT along with my lovely 2 sisters. We are 3 in number in my family and now after the war I am the only one who escaped from my country Libya in the high series mode of the war in the capital city if Libya Tripoli and that was the time the rebels came and invade our house and killed my parents and my 2 sisters and now I managed to escaped by the grace of GOD who save my life to a REFUGEE CAMP IN ACCRA GHANA with the little money in my hand.
My father is a Governmental Notable Man in our Country Libya Working with our late PRESIDENT GADDAFI for those years he has being ruling as the PRESIDENT OF OUR COUNTRY LIBYA and As the only Son of my late father he took me to a cool quiet conducive area in our country and showed me all his wealth round all his investment in Libya even the once outside our country Libya and he showed me all his deposit details information as the only son deposited with a Security Company in Ghana for years now before the war started and I scanned saved the Certificate of Deposit of the Money Con-seal in a Metallic Consignment trunk box Deposited with the Security Company for safe keeping in their custody and the company name/address is in my possession Saved in my private email box for record information and the amount in question is {15 Million US Dollars} deposited in the security company by my late father.
All I need from you now is to stand for me as a sole foreign beneficiary as my late father business associate and apply for the release/claim of the Consignment Trunk Box Deposited in the Security Company for safe keeping since 2001 for claim and once i send to you the details contact of the Security Company, you will now apply for the claim/release of the consignment trunk box to your designated home town of residence in your country and you will now make an arrangement for my coming to stay with you and give me a pa-renter care and take me out of this pains, suffering that I am passing through now in the REFUGEE CAMP here in Ghana and bring me to your country of residence for a better living and enhance my education level in life and take me as your son and I feel your touch better as my father and throw away my thinking and reform me with joy.
I am waiting to read from you and then I will furnish you the contact details of the security company in Ghana where the money is deposited by my late father. You can give me a call sir so that we can discuss properly on phone for more details of the deposit of the fund: +233545454588.
Best Regard,
Your Son.
Ibrahim RazakKumar.”

The Lottery Method is another technique that involves huge amount of money. As such, people are easily attracted. The little amount asked to be paid just bait. More would be demanded during the process. The messages also depict the expected international nature of the lotteries.
The other types are Puppy Method that involves sales of dogs as pets and much more and the Western Union method that is the reswindling of those who had been scammed before with the promise of helping them recover the lost money, and Missionary technique.
Study claimed the techniques and tactics used in cybercrime perpetration change from time to time. Respondents were of the view that when a technique is detected by the law enforcement agencies or global community, there will need to develop another. It gets complex over time. One of the respondents said:
Boys are evenly creative; there will always be a new way of doing things. The thing is that technology changes with a lot of updates and upgrades. Most times, the changes come with security issues too. The more reason we need to keep updating and upgrading ourselves. There is a lot to learn in this regard (IDI/19/YICC/November 2011).

Only a negligible few of the respondents said there are really no serious changes in the techniques of cybercrime. It was revealed that what often informed the change are more knowledge and deep thinking as regards the Internet environment and technology.
The results of the interview show that a majority of the youth claimed the techniques differ from place to place based on accessibility to information, networking, and the act of credibility of the perpetrators in the area. Very few, however, said the techniques do not differ from place to place noting that what differs is the complexity of the techniques, as in the case of this study’s findings which showed more complex techniques are usually in the urban centres while rural centres employ simple techniques. For example, in Surulere, they do website cloning, while it is not done in Badagry. A respondent said:
Before now, we were used to dating in Badagry. It was not bringing in a lot of money, but we were fine. Recently, a guy relocated to our area from Ogun state. He was a student of Olabisi Onabanjo University. He brought in newer formats that we are all learning. That is why most of us in this area are upgrading. We still do our “dating” on the side, but we are learning newer things (IDI/19 years/Male/November 2011).

Another also said:
I do not associate with people in this area. I operate alone. All of the techniques I used were learned from my friends outside of this community. I stay here because it is safe to operate from here. People cannot just come into my house because it is a military zone. We need safe places to operate from. I am done with “yahoo” now. I operate a legitimate business on nairaland.com. No one can arrest me for that (IDI//Male/November 2011).

Generally, respondents identified some of the factors responsible for the spread of cybercrime perpetration. Common in the responses of respondents was the movement of perpetrators from one geographical region to another, usually for security purposes. One of the respondents said:
Boys move from one place to another for security reasons, especially where police are disturbing in areas where they originally operate. When they get to a new area, others in that area learn it from them (IDI/22/YICC/ November, 2011).
A majority of the youth studied mentioned peer group and friends’ network. Only very few said it is spread through the media and cybercafé interaction.

4. Discussion of Findings
From the findings, one thing that can be observed in the mails is the poverty of English language expression. All that is required is basic education. That is the ability to write and express oneself in the English language. Those involved in cybercrime do not necessarily need to speak good English language but must be able to communicate. Most of the victims are found in the United States of America because there is a certain level of liberty when expressing oneself in the English language. The important things to note is that the person must make sure there is communication, even if the expression is poor and the person must be able to speak in American or any other adopted accent when there is the need to speak on the telephone or other online audio/visual applications.
What one notices in each of the letters is the depth of knowledge expressed by the writers of the emails. The main thing is the monetary promises. Each of these emails either promises money or help to protect wealth. The financial involvement will attract quick action from the person who might either lose money for not reacting or make money from reacting to the mail. For example, a person who has been contacted by the Japanese company would first of all contact the Nigerian company. After the confirmation, he/she might then decide to go on with the business with the belief that he/she was the only one contacted in Nigeria. Most of these emails are sent by individuals who have deep knowledge of these businesses or are conversant with the style of writing of the mails from the financial institutions. The construction of the language, especially in the business-related mails may not be correct.
As stated earlier, next of kin is a variant of “classified” method. There are several things that can be noticed in the format:
a. Event and timing
b. The educational level of writer

c. Status of writer
d. Language.
The events that are used as points of reference here are real, and they connect with the timing of the letter. Every letter here shows the level of the educational attainment of the writer and the language. One writer with low educational attainment shows his inability to express himself in the English language adequately and even asked to be sent to school after the deal has been executed. Another writer here displayed the frailty of expression because of the language barrier. The fact that English is not the official language in the country where the sender has claimed to come from makes it inevitable for people to make mistakes while expressing themselves in the English language. The officers of the banks also showed poor mastery of the English language. There are marked differences in these letters that depict all of the things listed above.
These are merely local names for the unending types of crime perpetrated online. One thing that is common in all of these formats is that the eventual goal is making money out of the victims. Money may not be introduced at the beginning, but eventually, it comes between the people involved. One comes with promises associated with emotional fulfilment, and the other comes with financial promises. Eventually, the motive and all calculations point at making money from the victims. The works of Peter and Grace (2001), Longe and Chiemeke (2006), and McAfee North American Criminological Report (2007) also reveal the different categories of cybercrime.
Generally, respondents believed the techniques and tactics used in cybercrime perpetration differ from place to place. However, there are still some techniques that are common in every area where cybercrime is perpetrated. The common techniques are dating and classified. Classified is complex in the sense that it refers to many techniques at the same time. It is just like the Military use of “Classified”. For example, in some areas, perpetrators know about getting more money on particular goods that are sold to many people at the same time, whereas in some other areas, youth involved in cybercrime may have a contractual agreement with one client. The knowledge of classified format varies and requires a lot of skills.

Youths involved in cybercrime learn through offline social networking—from schools, especially tertiary institutions—and there are ways of learning through frequent use of the Internet. Day to day interaction on the Internet can facilitate learning and exposure. Whatever technique the young people in an area are exposed to through any of these means is the technique that would thrive in such area till another is mastered by any other young person in that same area. Dating is the only technique that can be found everywhere, and it is perhaps the oldest of these techniques.
The study further revealed that there are various techniques of cybercrime in Lagos State include dating, next of kin, lottery, towing vehicle, Western Union, classified and website cloning among other techniques. The dating or sweetheart technique is the most pervasive. Dating does not bring a lot of money all the time, but it is the safest and most sustaining.

The next of kin, lottery, towing vehicle and Western Union are classified techniques that generate a lot of money, and the greedy people are the most susceptible to these forms of cybercrime. Many times, it is a long term project that accrues a huge sum of money when it is completed. The Western Union technique in quite absurd and almost unbelievable as it is a technique that is used to swindle victims who have suffered from the menace of cybercrime previously. This is done through the promise of helping them recover all they have lost to the fraudsters. Website cloning is only for highly skilled individuals with a deep knowledge of computer science. Only very few are equipped well enough to engage in this form of cybercrime technique.
All of the YICC use a blend of all of the available techniques to survive. A youth that is involved in a particular format of “classified”, which has to do with bank transfer will certainly engage in identity theft. The pictures below, taken during the field investigation, provide some explanation. Pictures 1, 3 and 4 are emails that must have been sent to many people whose email addresses have been generated online. An ordinary user of the Internet would have assumed that the emails were sent in from the banks, especially if they have an operating account with the bank. When the cursor is placed on the sender’s email, the real email address would be exposed, but this would be done by someone who is very conversant with both the Internet and the operation of the mail. In the three pictures, the real email addresses are exposed, and they present the email addresses of the identity thieves. Picture 1 presents a link that links to the website in Picture 2, which is a cloned website of Zenith Bank. With this, the identity thief also becomes a website cloner. Picture 5 below is only a shield that protects the Internet Protocol of the perpetrator of cybercrime. This way, it becomes difficult for the identity of the system to be revealed. Antivirus applications like Avast equally provide this kind of service. That is “online invisibility.”

5. Conclusion and Recommendations
It can be deduced from the preceding that like human society, where crime has been integrated into the system, cybercrime is an integral part of the virtual world. As technology develops in term of complexity and sophistication, cybercrime also increases. The problem of cybercrime is associated with the fact that where the computer is not a target for cybercrime, it can also be the tool that is used to facilitate cybercrime.
Based on these findings, the study has come up with many recommendations:
a. On the part of parents, it is expected that they monitor the places their children visit and the time the leave and arrive at home by stylishly and strategically supervising the things they do at home, especially when they are communicating on the telephone.
b. Government is expected to cultivate a relationship with other countries on the issues surrounding the control of cybercrime.
c. The government should also establish a law enforcement agency tagged with a name that states that it is established to tackle cybercrime with agents selected from these already established agencies.
d. Teachers at all levels of education should adopt the use of the Internet for educational purposes.
e. Finally, advertisements, pop-ups, and other media should be used online to campaign against cybercrime openly. It should go beyond the Internet by extending to television and radio. In addition to this, bank management and control by the Central Bank of Nigeria and individual banks should adopt stricter measures in controlling the flow of money into the banks and away from the banks. Domiciliary accounts should be created for an individual based on the supply of concrete identity and letters from organisations where they have been employed.

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