Earlier this year, a joint sting operation between the US and Nigeria led to the arrest of 167 Nigerians on charges related to internet scams – but this kind of work depends on ordinary people reporting their suspicions about possible scams, according to the International Crime Complaint Center. Last year, online fraud cost over $1.3bn worldwide, but there’s good news: the percentage of scams that are successful is falling, dropping from 9% in 2016 to just 6%. Why? Because ordinary people are a lot more careful than they used to be.
Who is at risk?
Scammers have always known that some people are wise to their tricks, so they try to target those who are vulnerable. Elderly people who are living away from their families are often targeted because they are likely to be lonely, making them easy prey for romance scams, or because they get confused easily, making it easier to trick them into making fake investments. Beginner traders are targeted because they’re still working out who they can trust online, making them easy to lure into fake fund management schemes and easy to tempt with fake brokers.
Because Nigeria’s trading regulation is still weak compared to many other countries, scammers have a comparatively low risk of getting caught if they pretend to be brokers, accept money from clients, and then disappear without giving them anything in return. If you want to stay safe as a trader, it’s best to use a well-known broker such as Plus500 that is properly regulated abroad. Scammers try to persuade new traders to sign up to fake brokers by offering what look like really good deals, so if a deal looks too good to be true, it’s vital to exercise caution.
In order to reduce your risk of falling prey to scammers, you first need to be aware that they’re out there. High-profile cases such as that of Hope Olusegun Aroke, who was recently found to have made $1m through internet scams despite being in prison at the time, have shocked many in Nigeria, but this shock is not a bad thing. The more that people talk about incidents such as this, the more that people will hesitate before agreeing to hand over money to a smooth-talking stranger.
Often, scammers try to pressure people into parting with money by suggesting that they’re being very rude in not extending their trust. A change in culture is needed to let people feel that it is okay to be rude in situations like this – people who deserve your good manners will not put you under such pressure. It’s also important for people to be aware that pressure to act quickly rather than miss out on a good deal is another common sign of a scam. Scammers have made their job harder for themselves where this is concerned because there are now so many websites out there promising amazing deals for people who act immediately that everybody knows that there will be another offer just around the corner if they’re too slow for the first one.
Sharing personal stories
One other group targeted by scammers might be less obviously vulnerable. It consists of young men, who are statistically more likely to engage in risky behaviour online (such as downloading files of unknown origin) and who tend to be highly concerned about their personal reputations. This concern with looking smart and sophisticated to other people means that young men who are scammed have traditionally been reluctant to talk about it, which helps scammers to stay safe and move on to further targets.
That culture is now changing. Dedicated forums tracking down scammers have encouraged more men to open up about their bad experiences, and the more who do so, the less embarrassing it feels. Men are no longer so easily convinced by scammers who tell them that if they talk, they will look like idiots. Anybody can be the victim of a crime, and by working together, ordinary men can help to catch the criminals.
A tougher world for scammers
With the public now far more cautious about trusting strangers online, it’s getting tougher for scammers to make a living. Increasing awareness of the risks associated with downloads and of the features that can mark out emails as suspicious is also eating into their profits. Even simple things such as people getting into the habit of using strong passwords (and changing them regularly) makes a difference. There will always be scams out there because there will always be some people who are naïve and vulnerable, but as the majority of people learn more about how to protect themselves, the internet is getting safer.