30 Dec 2007
An Encounter with Victim and Scammers on the Cameroonian Front
On the 17th of December 2007 between 15 hrs GMT and 15.45 hrs GMT, I was surfing the Net at one of the popular Cyber cafes in Bamenda, Cameroon. Three young men possibly in their early twenties were working on the computer next to me. I was curious to know why three of them were jointly editing a draft email that was on the screen.
I could not overtly peer into their screen to read the content of their mail but I overheard part of their discussion that led me to suspect that they were involved in some sort of scam. The young people were talking about “export documents” and “veterinary license fees”. The man on the keyboard then proceeded to search for the images of “my bulldogs” that he had possibly saved on a storage device attached to the computer. He eventually opened a file that displayed the images of well-maintained bulldogs. By the time I was rounding up from the Internet Café, they had settled for the image of one of the dogs sitting on a bed.
They were to attach the selected image on their email and send it to one of their foreign victims. There was no iota of doubt in my mind that these guys did not possess any bulldogs, let alone being in the position to export them.
As it sometimes happens, the ‘buyer’ will send money to process the ‘documents’ and ‘veterinary fees’ or pays for the pet proper. After receiving each payment, a new twist will be introduced into the transaction that requires additional funds. If the person being duped becomes suspicious and starts demanding a refund, the scammers simply abandon the email address, create a new one and continue searching for the next victim.
This type of crime falls under what the Nigerian government calls ‘advance fee fraud’ or what is commonly known in the West African Sub region as 419—a reference to the section of the Nigerian penal code that deals with such offences.
Cameroon is one of the countries in the world with low Internet penetration but online crime seems to be growing at par with Internet penetration.
Months ago ago, I received an email from a sixteen year-old American after she had an encounter with one of these scammers that claimed to reside in Douala, Cameroon. The young girl had already lost $200 in the process of importing a bird from the faceless Cameroonian-based ‘lady’. She became suspicious when the ‘lady’ asked for additional funds to retrieve the pet that had been seized by authorities of the ‘Douala zoo’ (there is no zoo in Douala). It was in the process of searching for the said zoo in Cameroon with an Internet search engine that she came across my website and decided to contact me (see details of our email exchanges below this article).
The disturbing part of the problem is that the Cameroon government and indeed many African governments are still way behind in appreciating the gravity of the growing Internet crime. When I asked a highly placed senior officer in the Cameroonian security forces whether they had a unit within their set- up to fight Internet crime? His characteristic smile at my question spoke volumes of the state of preparedness of African countries to confront this new kind of crime. In a country where many police stations still use typewriters (in this computer age) to document cases, one can readily understand that cyber criminals are relatively safe in Cameroon.
Besides, there is a pervasive culture of fraud and corruption that is eating Cameroon and other countries in the Sub region and this is more prominent at the higher rungs of the society. African youths, it seems are mimicking the deeds of their ‘parents’.
Honest people on this continent are at a loss whether they should now police the children or the ‘parents’?
Below is the email exchange (slightly edited for clarity) I had with the sixteen year old American girl. I have dropped her second name and email contact so as not to expose her identity without her consent.
Original mail from Lacy:
Hello, My name is Lacy and I’m 16 years old. I recently sent money to a lady in Cameroon Africa for her blue and gold macaw. Now she is saying that she needs more money and that they are going to take my bird to the zoo even though i paid for her and her papers are suppose to be in my name. Can you help or have any idea that may help me?? please get back to me
My First Reply
Could you tell me how you came across my address and from where you are writing? I do not know how you started the transaction with the lady and how much money you have spent so far. My humble advice to you is that you should not send more money because the said lady may be trying to dupe you. There is so much fraud committed over the Internet and you should be careful when dealing with unknown persons. Always discuss with your parents before taking some decisions that are complex. Just for curiosity, can you tell me the lady's name, the town in Cameroon where she is resident and any other information?
Njei M Timah
Lacy’s second mail to me
hello, I got your address while looking for the zoo [on the Net] that dolly may have been sent to. They said it was a Government zoo. Her Name is Ann Marie she lives in Douala, Littoral. I have her num,ber and everything. Her number is 011237-672-6997 and her email address is Ann_marie@luxmail.com. I sent her 200 dollars and have the paper from where i sent the money. Her address is Dokoti avenue commicial Douala 87654 post box 78 post code 00237. I am writing from the united states in Ohio. I Have the bird’s registration number and the place’s email and number. it's called livestock and animal husbandry the number is 011237-672-7164 and the email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Her number is 65470-Bd654. well that's all the information i have can you help anyway u can?
My advice to Lacy
From my preliminary observation, it is clear that the so-called Ann Marie is duping you. To begin with, I think that the bird macaw is rare if not is unavailable in Cameroon. These are birds common in Latin America. There is no government zoo in Douala. The address Dokoti Avenue Commicial 87654 doesnot exist in Douala. There is no such place called livestock and animal husbandry. My advice is that you should not send any further money to this lady. At 16, I think you are too young to take such risks without parental advice. There is very little else I can do than to give you advice. If International police cooperation functions, I would have advised that you notify them and they can help track the lady. It can be done by getting her at this end when she is about to claim money sent by you. I wish you the best.
Njei M. Timah
Njei Moses Timah