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Cybercrime escalating in the time of COVID-19

27 August 2021
Reading time: 4 minutes

Beware! The prevalence of cybercrime in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic is escalating – and it’s mostly affecting young people who think they are tech savvy.

Some are targets of the crime, others are perpetrating it. Those most at risk are unemployed and unskilled youths, who are desperate for jobs and will try any scheme to make money fast.

Ahmed Zannah, a specialist in cybercrime at Ambassadors Computers in Maiduguri, said unscrupulous cybercriminals used poverty and unemployment to defraud those who were often most in need.

He described cybercriminals as agile fraudsters who constantly came up with new crypto schemes and always seemed to be at least one step ahead of those trying to stop them.

The targets often were young people who needed paying jobs and who wanted to become millionaires without working for it.

Alhaji Bukar Ali, a resident of Maiduguri, told RNI reporter Fatima Modu Grema that he was defrauded by a dodgy scheme called ISME six months ago. He thought it was a “legitimate investment opportunity”.

“I invested about 55,000 naira thinking that I could get back double the amount of the money I invested. Then my friends told me the website was fake and the person I had dealings with – over the internet – was a fraudster.”

The fraudster told him that if he reposted the “investment opportunity” on Facebook or any other social media platforms, his investment would multiply by two. That was how I was deceived and defrauded because I thought it was genuine internet business.”

Zannah said people needed to get digital education to help them differentiate between fake websites and valid ones.

“If more people were better educated, it would save millions from being defrauded.

Ali said he knew of some people who had invested 100,000 naira, others 200,000 naira and still others who had invested more than 1 million naira into the “investment opportunity”.

Zannah said all the years of attacks by insurgents – compounded by the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic – had resulted in many businesses crashing, leaving thousands without jobs and without any means to put food on their tables.

“They invest in the scheme because they think it is legitimate and they end up becoming the victims of fraud.”

He advised people to shun cryptocurrency “opportunities”.

“If you think something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Stop dreaming of making money overnight. It is impossible.”

Zannah said, because of the worsening economic crisis in Nigeria, people were quick to apply for jobs advertised on the internet. This had been a bonus for cybercriminals and had allowed them to come up with all manner of schemes to defraud people.

He said if people were interested in investing in cryptocurrencies, he would suggest the Binance and Trust Wallet apps, which were valid. However he cautioned people to learn as much as they could about cryptocurrencies before investing.

Remi Afon, the president of the Cyber Security Experts Association of Nigeria (CSEAN), emphasised the need for a review of the legislation to reflect current trends in the digital space.

Interpol said criminals used new technologies to commit cyberattacks against governments, businesses and individuals. These crimes knew no borders, either physical or virtual, caused serious harm and posed very real threats to victims worldwide.

Cybercrime was progressing at an incredibly fast pace, with new trends constantly emerging. Cybercriminals were becoming more agile, exploiting new technologies with lightning speed, tailoring their attacks using new methods and cooperating with one another in ways not seen before.

“Complex criminal networks operate across the world, coordinating intricate attacks in a matter of minutes,” it said, adding that police officers everywhere needed to keep pace with new technologies to understand the possibilities they created for criminals and how they could be used as tools in the fight against cybercrime.


America’s FBI Press Office said in a report: “Fraudsters are leveraging increased fear and uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic to steal money and launder it through the complex cryptocurrency ecosystem.

It advised people to be on the lookout for an increase in the following cryptocurrency fraud schemes related to COVID-19: Blackmail attempts, work-from-home scams; paying for nonexistent treatments or equipment to prevent COVID-19; and investment scams.

“Although there are legitimate charities, investment platforms, and e-commerce sites that accept payment in cryptocurrency, pressure to use a virtual currency should be considered a significant red flag,” the FBI said.

Cybercrimes against people include cyber harassment and stalking, e-mail phishing, the dissemination of child pornography, various sorts of spoofing, credit card fraud, human trafficking, identity theft and online connected libel or slander.

About the author

Elvis Mugisha