His name is Akin. He’s 14 years-old, lives in Lagos, wears Adidas sneakers, a Rolex, and lots of gold jewelry, and he earns his money by fleecing the gullible in the west:
Akin buys things online – laptops, BlackBerries, cameras, flat-screen TVs – using stolen credit cards and aliases. He has the loot shipped via FedEx or DHL to safe houses in Europe, where it is received by friends, then shipped on to Lagos to be sold on the black market. (He figures Americans are too smart to sell a camera on eBay to a buyer with an address in Nigeria.)
Akin’s main office is an Internet cafe in the Ikeja section of Lagos. He spends up to ten hours a day there, seven days a week, huddled over one of 50 computers, working his scams.
And he’s not alone: The cafe is crowded most of the time with other teenagers, like Akin, working for a “chairman” who buys the computer time and hires them to extract e-mail addresses and credit card information from the thin air of cyberspace. Akin’s chairman, who is computer illiterate, gets a 60 percent cut and reserves another 20 percent to pay off law enforcement officials who come around or teachers who complain when the boys cut school. That still puts plenty of cash in Akin’s pocket.
Given that his mother makes a
$30 a month as a cleaner and his dad makes the same by hustling at bus stations it should probably be no big surprise why Akin has no problems with the way he earns his money.
“What do you want me to do?” Akin asks in pidgin English, explaining why he turned to a life of Internet crime. “It is my God-given talent. Our politicians, they do their own; me, I’m doing my own. I feed my family – my sister, my mother, my popsie. Man must survive.”
Or as Akin puts it, “White people are too gullible. They are rich, and whatever I gyp them out of is small change to them.”
Who knew a lack of scruples and a willingness to bear false witness in the pursuit of money were God given talents? Oh, wait, just about every televangelist knows that. My bad.
It doesn’t help that the penalties for 419 crimes in Nigeria are an open joke. Arrests are rare, prosecutions infrequent, and actual convictions few and far between. Scamming is pretty easy and makes big bucks even when your “boss” is withholding 80% of the take. When you live in a country like Nigeria you’d be crazy not to get in on that kind of action.