Tech not Yahoo: Nigerian techies talk about the uneasy relationship between internet fraud and tech

Ejike Kanife
Microsoft, Mastercard Fund CyberPeace Institute, an Initiative that Fights the Weaponisation of the Internet

There’s hardly any community in major Nigerian cities like Lagos, Port Harcourt, Ibadan, Abuja, Calabar etc that residents can’t point to one or several internet fraudsters popularly called Yahoo Boys. This is rampant in low-income hoods and ghettos.

Their stories usually go this way; the boy was from an underprivileged family that barely had enough food and was always under threat of being evicted from their humble home. One day, the young man, usually without any tertiary or vocational education, suddenly buys a big car, rents a very spacious multi-room apartment in a highbrow area and upgrades the economic status of his entire family.

Due to the unbearable economic conditions in the country, an abject lack of education and proper jobs, young people are continuously herded into this path of life. Nigerian music and pop culture has also played their part in glorifying the lifestyle of these fraudsters and, all thanks to good old peer pressure, millions of young people are trooping in droves towards it.

Nowadays, the media is awash every day with news of internet fraudsters arrested and arraigned by the police and the EFCC. But even that frequency of arrests hardly begins to describe how rampant it has become as the recent case of Ramon Abass popularly called Hushpuppi shows, even members of law enforcement at the highest levels can be complicit in this illicit activity.

But what if a career in tech can be presented to these young, computer-savvy Nigerians as a better alternative to internet fraud? This was the topic as tech leaders converged on social media yesterday.

What was said

The conversation began with this simple tweet:

But popular Nigerian tech leader, Iyin Aboyeji was quick to call out the false comparison. He countered that it is the “corrupt police sponsored by Yahoo people” that keep making the comparison, insisting tech guys are Yahoo with packaging simply because both sets of people operate with computers.

Iyin Aboyeji

The discussion quickly shifted to tech as a viable alternative to internet fraud and why it is important that the young underprivileged Nigerian sees this option. Iyin argued that the average underprivileged is devoid of options which is why internet fraud was their best option.

Comparing them with inner-city American youths whose choices are limited to drugs and sports, he advocated that the problem shouldn’t be seen from the point of view of morals but of available choices. He believes underprivileged kids should be given the option of tech as against internet fraud or even touting, popularly called “agbero”.

One thing I will say though is tech is a guaranteed path to wealth. I have seen folks steadily go from $100 a month to $100,000/year within 3 years. Throw in a good shot at owning $5m+ of equity in a unicorn within 5 years. In ~10 yrs you could be a guaranteed millionaire.

Iyin Aboyeji

However, not everyone agrees with the ‘choice’ point of view. The Vunderkind for instance thinks the perception that fraudsters go into fraud because they have limited options is either naive or worse still, malicious.

Some people also pointed out that Yahoo is also a guaranteed path to wealth in a very short time which is why young people are flocking to it in droves. They also spelt out some of the reasons why these fraudsters think they are immune to the repercussions of their crimes.

“Some of them think they are too smart to get caught, or that juju will protect them from getting caught. They expect to bribe or manipulate their way out of police problems. This is one reason they fear organizations they cannot corrupt or manipulate, e.g., the FBI,” David Fatumbi said.

TechYahoo: where does tech and internet fraud meet?

For many, it is even nauseating that tech and Yahoo are been mentioned in the same conversation because the latter is clearly a crime. But apparently, the threat which internet fraud poses is quite real. Real enough to draw this comment from one of the leading guys in the Nigerian tech space:

One day you will wake up an a yahoo boys calling card will be I’m into tech. They may even set up and take over industry associations and relate with their fellow criminals in govt on our behalf. This is why we must educate the public and condemn fraudulent behavior. It hurts us.

Iyin Aboyeji

So how much of a line is there still between tech and internet fraud? How much of that line is fading, at least in the eyes of the public? Finally, and more scaringly, how involved are some tech guys in internet fraud?

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Tech-and-Yahoo.jpg

While Iyin already mentioned that misconstruing tech with internet fraud is already a “corrupt police” construct and the only thing both have in common is computers, is this really the case?

An aspiring developer, Oghenevwegba, pointed out a very curious side of the debate which no one has said anything about. According to him, internet scammers don’t act alone as they have a lot of techies, called hackers, who build fake online infrastructure for them.

“Some techies are assisting these Yahoo people also. The Yahoo boys call them their “hackers”. They build websites, create web forms and fake bank login sites for them and get paid. Many of them are here pretending to hold opinions against Yahoo boys while in real life, they are business partners,” Oghenevwegba said.

His claim quickly brings to mind the ‘hacker’ in Hushpuppi’s case, a website designer, Vincent Chibuzo who was also declared wanted by the FBI. However, some people have been quick to defend techies in this case.

Peter a content and growth developer, and a website designer, for instance, said it is not the job of designers to ask where the money they’ll be paid would come from.

“Nah. If I’m hired for services I provide, should I question my clients as to where the money I will get paid is coming from? My default job is to build websites for a bunch of strangers on the internet. Freelancers choke, we dey just build,” Peter said.

He however admitted that there are designers who know and still build. He however attributed it to designers ‘who legit just want to make websites’ and really don’t care what the clients use them for.

Giving further insight into how scammers approach techies to design websites and other digital platforms for them, he roughly categorised them into cloning websites and non-cloned ones.

“The new one na ‘My company is trying to do a separate website that is exactly the other website with new features. We need a designer to clone our website with so and so links…’ Some freelancers don’t even know wetin dey sup until it happens.”

For the non-cloned ones, he says: “Not everybody building a website to scam somebody is cloning another website. The most regular builds can be used to “run-package” (scams). If for instance, someone says they want to build something for a non-profit and they want to accept payments, you think say anybody go ask why?”

Product manager, Abisoye Afolabi also pointed out another kind of fraud taking place right inside the tech space. Calling it TechYahoo, he described it as an impersonation fraud that happens mostly when Nigerian developers are looking to land foreign jobs.

“This Quarter alone I got two of such, one from one of the top three consulting companies in the world Lead Technology Consultant (Cloud & DevOps) but I have to impersonate.

Abisoye Afolabi

“One dude calls me up and tells me there’s this interview for the role of Senior Cloud Solutions Architect, the salary was north of $150k and that the interview was in 4 hours but I would bear another name and I shouldn’t turn on my camera. Went on to say, You get the job and we would pay you $100k and they take the rest. Money hits their account first and my cut will come to mine monthly. I turned it down. Techyahoo is now rampant in 2021 for remote gigs,” he said.

The more one follows the conversation the more it becomes clearer that a lot needs to be done to sanitise the tech space if the line between itself and internet fraud must be seen to be clear and distinct.

While Iyin thinks the space is self-regulatory, the activities of techies, who knowingly or not work hand-in-glove with internet fraudsters are testing that assertion to its limits.

What can be done

Internet fraud has come a long way and has enjoyed a lot of publicity, both from the extravagant lifestyle of people who indulge in it and from popular culture, contemporary music, nightclubs and movies. Reversing the trend through tech might be a long and hard task.

Olu Afolabi doesn’t think fraud is a complex problem though. According to him, it is a simple case of a disadvantaged person seeing an opportunity to make money and live large in a poor country, taking it, and incorporating it into their lifestyle.

He, therefore, advocated for tech to be marketed as exactly what it is; an avenue for disadvantaged people to make a living.

Iyin Aboyeji advocated against looking at the problem through the prism of morals. Noting that fraud is threatening to ruin the good which tech stands for, he said fraudsters have spent decades advertising their option through music and as such, the counter from tech leaders can’t be just morals. He advocated the need for a plan.

Omamode Orieno an expert in sustainable renewable energy, while citing the Andela example, advocated that having a kind of actual street impact would be the way forward.

“Fraud has mentorship programs where the leader mentors and houses the new entrants, feeds them while teaching them the process. If Tech wants to combat this, it must go beyond just online teaching but the street impact (pay to learn). Andela did this and was successful,” he said.

Some users however advised against making the street/physical outreach a paid one as this would greatly discourage people from disadvantaged backgrounds from partaking.

Technext Newsletter

Get the best of Africa’s daily tech to your inbox – first thing every morning.
Join the community now!

Register for Technext Coinference 2023, the Largest blockchain and DeFi Gathering in Africa.

Technext Newsletter

Get the best of Africa’s daily tech to your inbox – first thing every morning.
Join the community now!