Two young black men are lying face down on a large bed, chatting on their smartphones. One of them, Leon (pseudonym, 20 years old), demonstrates how to create a fake account on a dating app.
All you have to do is scrub a photo of a Western woman from Instagram, crop it, and paste it in.
With this, Leon operated his phone with a familiar hand and quickly created a profile with a fake name. He then created a profile under a false name, pretending to be the woman in the photo and approaching people of the opposite sex.
The target audience is elderly men in their 60s or older,” he said. The elderly are less familiar with social networking sites than younger people, and they are more easily believed. Plus, they are lonely.
They often pick up pictures of pornographic actresses from the Internet and use them. When we asked Leon to show us his phone, he had saved a large number of bewitching images of blonde-haired women. And the “affectionate” messages that he sends to his partners existed in a file on the Internet with several example sentences saved. ……
It was late February of this year, in a corner of a slum in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city. There was no air conditioning in the room, which was about eight tatami mats in size, and the dimly lit interior was a steam bath because of the ongoing power outage. Leon is an active college student who goes to school from this room. He was also involved in cybercrime, which involves cheating people of the opposite sex he meets on social networking sites and matching apps out of money by making them fall in love with each other. Leon recalls how he first got involved in cybercrime when he was in high school.
I was influenced by my friends who were running scams. They taught me how to scam, and four American men sent me a total of $1,800 (about 250,000 yen).
Most of the victims are from Europe and the United States, but there are also a few of Asian descent, including Japanese. This crime is called “international romance fraud” in Japan, and the number of victims has increased rapidly over the past few years. This is because the new Corona epidemic has restricted face-to-face dining, and people are increasingly turning to matching apps as a place to meet people.
Why do “active students” commit crimes?
According to the National Consumer Affairs Center (NCC), which provides consultation services, there were 941 cases in FY2010. Men account for 60% of the male victims, and the age range is wide from teens to over 70 years old, regardless of age or sex. The amount of damage can range from several million to tens of millions of yen, or even over 100 million yen.
I have been covering romance scams for about three years. In the process, I learned that the perpetrators were concentrated in Nigeria and Ghana in West Africa, and I began to wonder if I could contact them.
One Nigerian student who was familiar with the situation told me the following story about the perpetrators of romance scams: “They are ‘yahoo boys.
They are called ‘yahoo boys. They use various scams, including romance scams, to buy luxury cars and play with women at clubs with the money they swindle from foreigners.
Yahoo Boy …….
Back in the 1980s, when Nigeria’s dictatorial regime was heavily corrupt, fraud was rampant, taking advantage of its corrupt nature. Letters from people claiming to be royalty or high-ranking government officials asking for the loan of an account to transfer their father’s inheritance overseas were sent to overseas business owners, who were then swindled out of their commissions. However, with the spread of the Internet, letters were replaced by e-mails, and the perpetrators continued the scam using Yahoo Mail, which in turn became known as “Yahoo Boy.
Leon, whom I mentioned at the beginning of this article, is also a Yahoo Boy, and many young Nigerians, mostly university students, are now involved in romance scams.
When I arrived in Lagos, I was introduced to several Yahoo Boys through Professor Adamu (pseudonym), a leading cybercrime researcher. All of them were his students, and all of them were university students who were engaged in romance scams on their own, so they all had a hard life and none of them were “adult rich. Still, they were still breaking the law.
Since Professor Adamu is in a position to supervise his students, he should, by all rights, stop the crimes. However, Nigeria has a historical background of rampant fraud, and there are complicated circumstances that make it difficult to stop the crimes easily. Professor Adamu explains.
Students around them are doing it, so they are influenced by that, and they all get involved in the scam. If they hit it, they can get easy money. Moreover, the police and other law enforcement agencies sometimes forego arrests in exchange for bribes from the Yahoo Boys.”
The composition is that a portion of the money defrauded by the Yahoo Boys goes to the police. To be clear, this kind of corruption in investigative agencies in developing countries is not particularly uncommon. Professor Adam continues.
The laws against romance scams are also inadequate. The Internet started to spread in Nigeria in the 2000s, and the Cybercrime Control Act was passed in 2003. In the meantime, romance scams have spread. In addition, the poverty that young people are living in is one of the factors that contribute to their involvement in the scam.
Poverty should not be used as a justification for crime. This is a sound argument when viewed from a Japanese perspective, but it is also true that there are realities in Nigerian society that cannot be measured by that alone.
Young people yearn to be “scammed into adulthood.”
What is particularly vexing to Leon is what the future holds for him after he graduates from college.
He says, “In Nigeria right now, it’s hard to get a job after college, I think it’s about 50%. I wish I had a job that pays a normal salary. ……”
Unemployment among young people is particularly high, exceeding 40%. This is nothing compared to Japan, where the rate is about 3%. Many young people are living as yahoo boys because they cannot find decent jobs even after graduating from college. And because his targets are people from developed countries with high income levels, such as the U.S. and U.K., Leon’s honest words come out.
I feel guilty about continuing the romance scam, but I have no choice but to do it to survive. But I have to do it to survive. Besides, even if we swindle money from people in developed countries, they will be supported by their governments, so they should be less troubled than we are, who cannot expect any support.
Underlying all this may be a sense of inequity that lies between developing and developed countries. Joseph (pseudonym, 27 years old), a graduate of the same university as Leon, is the only adult money-maker I was able to interview. Although he did not reveal the amount of money he defrauded or the details of his victims, Joseph lived in an upscale neighborhood with his fellow yahoo boys and drove a bright white Lexus.
When we were shown around the house, the living room, just inside the front door, must have been at least 5 meters high to the ceiling. The white walls were covered with a large television set, and the lifestyle was clearly different from that of a student. Between interviews, Joseph kept drinking a yellow liquid dissolved in marijuana weed (the raw material for marijuana).
I drink the same liquid at parties,” he said. I’m not cheating anymore. I don’t do scams anymore because I was betrayed by people I trusted. Instead, I’m putting my money into investing in crypto assets (virtual currency).
He went to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates to learn how to invest.
Crypto assets are like foreign exchange,” he said, “and unlike romance scams, there are no legal issues. That’s how I’m making money now.”
There are also famous “scam kings” who have made their millions by scamming major foreign companies. The existence of “admirers” like them is also the soil for the creation of new Yahoo Boys.
Takehide Mizutani was born in Mie Prefecture in 1975. Winner of the 9th Ken Kaiko Nonfiction Award for ” Men Who Left Japan Behind: Impoverished Japanese Living in the Philippines. His latest book, “Reporto: International Romance Fraud” ( Shogakukan Shinsho), which focuses on the frontlines of romance fraud, will be released on June 6.
From the June 16-23, 2023 issue of “FRIDAY
Interview and text： Nonfiction writer, Takehide Mizutani