Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The “419 Chickens” have Come Home to Roost

When MasterCard, a brand of credit card, was introduced in Nigeria about 6 months ago, I was ecstatic because of the enormous value credit card system brings to a national economy. The credit lending industry (credit card and mortgage) account for significant portion of the United States national economy. Not that Nigeria will come anywhere close to USA soon, the presence and availability of credit system will boost the Nigerian economy in no small way.

Then this came through via Nigerian Guardian newspaper:

“…The electronic card-payment system issued by some Nigerian banks has been rejected by merchants in Europe and the United States (U.S.). Citing the prevalence of large-scale fraud, the merchants say the MasterCard’s and other card-based instruments of payment from the country are ‘high risk.’ Many of such would-be transactions originated by Nigerians through these cards have resulted in still births.”

Reason: The cardholders are Nigerians, living in Nigeria, and Nigeria is a high fraud area.

FYI: This's fallout of the 419 advance-fee scam that has been perfected by Nigerians.

The actions of few wayward and criminal Nigerians have resulted in the exclusion of millions of honest Nigerians. The dreams of Nigerian entrepreneurs wanting to expand their business or jostling to try their hands in the untapped e-commerce and credit service industry may have kaput or seriously threatened.

Sadly too, it seems there is no recourse in sight for Nigerian credit card holders and other business people affected by the 419 scams. It appears there hasn’t been any clarity on how to arrest the menace of advance fee fraud in Nigeria. The inauguration of the Nigerian Cybercrime Working Group (NCWG) in 2004 to stem the 419 menace was seen by some as counterproductive and redundant since its duties appear to duplicate, to some extent, that of the Economic and Financial Crime Commissions (EFCC). Till date, the functions and accomplishments of the NCWG remain foggy.

Occasionally one hears of the convictions of 419 scammers in the news- recent examples are the sentencing of a Nigerian scammer to 376 years of imprisonment for advance fee fraud, and the $242 scam involving some Nigerians and a Brazilian banker. The prosecution of these high-profile cases has sensationalized the fight against 419- in the media that is. The rank and file of the scammers have not really diminished in size, and they still frequent the Nigerian cyber cafés in doves to send their letters as they’ve done many years back. Nothing seem to have changed.

The Nigerian blog- Kazey Journal’s question: “How do you convince a foreigner that you are a Nigerian but not fraudulent, especially when it comes to online transactions?” speaks volume to the issue.

There is absolutely nothing the Nigerian citizens and business people can do- except prevail on the government to embark on a widespread crackdown on 419 and other scam artists. Even if it means using any means necessary.