Posted by Tim Cranton 
Associate General Counsel

This week, a new pop song hits the airwaves in West Africa with a highly unusual message: Don’t be seduced by cybercrime.

Cybercrime is a global issue, but perhaps no form of cybercrime has been more  associated with a region than the advance fee fraud collectively known as “Nigeria” or “419” scams (419 is the section of the Nigerian Criminal Code dealing with fraud).   Through schemes such as fake lotteries, bogus inheritances, romantic relationships, investment opportunities or – infamously – requests for assistance from “officials,” scammers promise an elusive fortune in exchange for advance payments. 

West Africa is by no means the only source of these scams, but the region is stepping up to address their impact in a variety of creative ways.

419 scams have taken root in Nigeria’s popular culture. Scammers enjoy a rebellious, “cool” mystique, even producing songs and music videos that celebrate their own audacity. At the same time, 419 scam victims around the world are often stigmatized as naïve or gullible, which discourages many from coming forward.

This week in Abuja, Nigeria, members of the Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit and Microsoft Nigeria are meeting with the Economic and Financial Crime Commission of Nigeria (EFCC) and other international stakeholders to plan programs to combat Internet fraud in West Africa. 

One particularly innovative effort is a campaign to redirect the energies of young Nigerians drawn into cybercrime, which is known locally as “yahoo-yahoo.”  On the campaign’s front lines are 24 ambassadors for the Microsoft Internet Safety, Security and Privacy Initiative for Nigeria (MISSPIN). These young Nigerians work with local communities throughout the country to help establish productive online alternatives to Internet fraud and educate the youth of Nigeria on avoiding the trap of cybercrime.

MISSPIN Ambassador Ohimai Godwin Amaize is working to shift cultural perceptions of scammers and their victims through the B.L.I.N.G. project, which unites some of Nigeria’s most influential musicians around the problem of cybercrime.  Their song, “Maga No Need Pay,” challenges young Nigerians to resist the temptation of “yahoo-yahoo” and avoid creating more maga, or victims.  The song, an Afro Hip-Hop and R&B fusion, is intended to help inspire both national and international audiences.

I’m also proud to announce that on September 7-10, the EFCC will convene the 1st West-African Cybercrime Summit in Abuja. Coordinated by the EFCC, Microsoft, the U.N. Office on Drugs and CrimeEconomic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) and the International Mass Marketing Fraud Working Group (IMMFWG), this conference will bring together an international group of political leaders, decision makers, criminal justice authorities, industry representatives and other stakeholders from Africa and around the world to help:

  • Raise political awareness and commitment to combat cybercrime
  • Build capacity for scalable and sustainable solutions
  • Develop multi-lateral cooperation

These are by no means the first steps taken to fight advance fee fraud.  In 2008 Microsoft joined with Yahoo!, Western Union and the African Development Bank to establish the Advance Fee Fraud Coalition.  Last fall, Microsoft, Western Union, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Federal Trade Commission launched apublic safety ad campaign in Bing to help warn consumers about financial fraud.

Cybercrime knows no national boundaries. To fight it effectively we must embrace a variety of approaches – technological, legal, and cultural.  Motivating individuals to reject cybercrime and pursue legitimate ventures begins with campaigns like MISSPIN and the B.L.I.N.G. project.  With awareness, education and partnership, we can help make the Internet safer for the whole world.

I encourage you to check out “Maga No Need Pay” at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EGCnl6O6bnE. For more information about advance fee fraud in general, please visit http://affcoalition.org.