Online fraud is as old as the internet but some scams might as well have been born yesterday.
In the 1990s and early this decade, they gave birth to the Yahoo boys in Nigeria, inspiring a song by local rock star Olu Maintain about “benjamins baby”, referring to the US$100 bill.
As expected, it had nothing to do with Yahoo but everything to do with money.
In Ghana, Sakawa did not exist in the local language until groups of men recently began taking to the internet to defraud unsuspecting foreign males.
Now the Sakawa boys represent a living and a lifestyle, according to BBC News.
They’re easy to spot – young men in fast cars throbbing with rock music.
David, 25, is a typical Sakawa boy. He has been defrauding people on the internet for the past two years.
“I know it’s wrong but it gives me a lot of money,” he said.
He used to sleep in the streets until he saw his friends in internet cafes earning money defrauding people online.
A typical con is pretending to be a woman romantically interested in men from Europe, America or Asia.
He learned the trade and, with little formal education, earned enough money to rent an apartment, buy a car and have money left over to spend.
“Some say this work is easy but it is not,” he said.
“You have to be patient, smart, fast and cultivate trust between you and the white person”.
Fraudsters in Ghana say they are the women in pictures and videos to draw in victims
Fraudsters like David (not his real name) pretend to be beautiful women.
They play clips of the women saying hello. They then tell their targets that their microphone or speakers aren’t working so they can’t speak, they can only communicate via messages.
The Ghanaian Times reports that a government minister complained that chiefs “condone and connive with such criminals”.
Northern Region Minister Alhaji Limuna Mohammed Muniru said he had received a death threat after issuing a directive to arrest some Sakawa boys.
The negative effect of Sakawa boys’ cons is felt across the country.
Cybercrime contributed to Ghana being blacklisted for money-laundering by the international watchdog the global Financial Action Task Force in 2012.
The government said those who have been victims of Ghana’s conmen should lodge formal complaints.
But there have been few convictions, partly because of the difficulty prosecuting this type of crime, with the victims living abroad.
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