Internet fraudsters operating in the 'sakawa' underworld are said to have deeply penetrated some money transfer outlets with enticing offers to enable them to retrieve large sums of money sent to them by their victims abroad.
A case in point is a lady attendant at one of the transfer outlets in Accra alleged to have been compromised by 'sakawa' boys with huge sums of money in 'kickbacks' in lieu of the presentation of correct documents for the collection of their remittances.
The attendant (name withheld) allegedly collects 10 per cent of the amounts involved from 'sakawa' boys who present code numbers and their personal identity cards to collect money in the name of females and 20 per cent from those who do not present identity cards.
The system of money transfer requires the recipient to produce a code number from' the sender and recipient's national identification, such as passport, driving licence or voter ID card, in order to redeem the money sent.
Meanwhile, the 'sakawa' boys pose as females to deceive their victims and money is sent to them in the female names they present. In their bid to retrieve the money, they have struck a deal with the lady attendant to circumvent the requirement by not presenting the appropriate identity cards or presenting only the code numbers.
In a practice believed to be widespread, money transfer attendants allegedly demand big percentages before obliging to the deal, sometimes to the displeasure of the 'sakawa' boys.
A source at Accra New Town, whose lead the Daily Graphic followed to ascertain the deal, said while transacting a business at one of the money transfer outlets at the Accra North Post Office recently, he eavesdropped on a bargain between a suspected 'sakawa' boy and a lady at one of the counters on the percentage to pay on the money he was to collect.
The source said he was confused initially because he thought it was the responsibility of the sender, not the receiver, to pay the transfer charges. It was curiosity that made him know that the 'sakawa' boy wanted to collect the money in the name of a female.
"The lady told the guy that since he did not bring any ID card the percentage will be higher. After taking my money, I decided to wait a while to watch what went on at that counter. I spent almost three hours there and can you imagine that about 10 boys who came there to pick money were all taking the money in female names? Mr Editor, this lady is making money over there," he wrote to the Daily Graphic.
On a verification mission to the transfer post at the Accra North Post Office, some clients who had gone there to transact business were observed giving money to some of the attendants but the purpose of the gesture was not clear.
Although the financial manager in charge of money transfer at the Accra North Post Office could not immediately confirm or deny the allegation, she indicated that in the past there had been reported misconduct on the part of some of the attendants; for which reason they had been reshuffled.
Some of the 'sakawa' operatives have also targeted the Ghana Post Company (GPC) as another major conduit for sending messages to and receiving parcels from their victims abroad.
On a daily basis, 'sakawa' boys troop to the GPC Headquarters in Accra and other post offices elsewhere to collect large quantities of parcels."
Some 'workers at the GPC Headquarters confirmed to the Daily Graphic that the "sakawa' boys were always lurking around the vicinity to collect parcels.
The difficulty facing the company, however, is that it cannot determine a fraudulent parcel unless it is based on a tip-off, a fact acknowledged by the Deputy Managing Director (Operations & Development) of the GPC, Mr Nicholas N.Y. Dery.
He said without a tip-off from a sending administration about the fraudulent nature of a parcel, "we will go ahead and deliver".
Mr Dery cited two instances when the company had to return parcels to the sending units in the US and Canada because they were deemed to have been fraudulently sent.
In the early days of 'sakawa', the 'Swedru boys', who are widely acknowledged as the pioneers of cyber fraud in Ghana, used the post office as the main conduit for sending large volumes of letters and nude pictures of ladies, mostly scanned from magazines, to their victims abroad.
Some of the 'sakawa' boys managed to lure their victims to Ghana, put them in plush hotels, squeezed all the money on them and left them stranded in town.
Security sources at the GPC recalled instances when some of the foreign victims who could not buy air tickets back home had to wander along the corridors of the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) of the Ghana Police Service, hoping for salvation.
In one instance, according to the sources, a white lady who was lured into the country was dispossessed of every money, impregnated and abandoned in misery by 'sakawa' boys.
With the passage of time, the use of the post office for correspondence with their victims became unattractive for the 'sakawa' boys, as officials of the company began intercepting volumes of the correspondence and, with the collaboration of the police, succeeded in arresting some of the boys.
The Internet, thus, became a safer, faster and more preferred option for the 'Swedru boys' and in no time they infested all the major cities of the country with the cyber crime.
The proliferation of Internet cafes, their accessibility and affordability, as well as growing ICT literacy rate among the population and the potential wealth the Internet offers, have all conspired to make online crime a rather daunting task for an emerging ICT country such as Ghana.
While acknowledging the government's plans to address the problem through the enactment of a Cyber Security Law and the establishment of a Cyber Emergency Response Team as steps in the right direction, an ICT consultant, Mr Kwami Ahiabenu, said, "We have a long way to go in our attempt at resolving this problem."
He said the security agencies, for instance, lacked resources and capacity to deal with the complex nature of cyber crime in terms of policing online space, making arrests and prosecuting suspects.
He said as of now the situation clearly indicated that Ghana was not prepared for the lCT race, otherwise pre-emptive measures would have been taken, knowing very well that cyber crime was part of the ICT revolution.
The complicity of some policemen in the cyber crime, as exemplified by the recent arrest of a policeman for allegedly defrauding a Namibian of $7,900, and the admission by DSP Felix Mawusi of the CID that the police lacked the capacity and logistics to combat cyber crime underline the enormous security challenge facing the nation.
Source: Daily Graphic