Africa confronts cybercrime

Law enforcement agencies and Internet service providers (ISPs) in Africa are trying to stem a wave of cybercrime originating from some parts of the continent.

Credit card “cloning” and e-mail scams are the main types of cybercrime emanating from the continent, according to Isaac Prah of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the Ghana Police Service.

The problem has got to the point where the African Working Party on Information Technology crime – a law enforcement community that collaborates in sharing knowledge and experiences in information technology crime – last week met in Accra to discuss it, Prah noted.

Organized criminal gangs normally use cybercafes to carry out credit card fraud, Prah and other officials noted. In addition, staff in hospitality and other service industries may pass on the credit card details of a client they serve to criminals with whom they are in collusion.

Fraudsters obtain the credit card details from Web sites from which they download software that generates random credit card numbers, or Web sites that publish the details of stolen credit cards, according to Jimmy Allotey, security manager of Ghana Community Network Services Ltd., a business-to-government organization that is working to reduce turnaround time for processing trade and customs documents.

According to CID’s Allotey, one common scam occurs when a fraudster sends an e-mail telling the target that he is the next of kin or a confidante of a government official who has stashed money somewhere and needs help to transfer the money outside the continent. Scammers also say they have made excess money on a contract and they need to transfer the money outside the continent. The scammers then ask their target to put up “in good faith” money to help the transaction.

These fraudsters are not only targeting non-Africans. Some local businesses have fallen prey to these fraudsters as well. A Ghanaian e-commerce startup,, recently lost heavily when a fraudster made a transaction with a stolen credit card.

Other scammers are exploiting the craving of most people on the continent to travel to the West in search of greener pastures. Fraudsters send e-mail to targets informing them of an impending conference outside their country. These fraudsters volunteer to take care of all travel arrangements. The target does not hear from them after payments are made.

These fraudsters are not left alone, however. Members of the African Working Party on Information Technology Crime are sharing intelligence on these crimes and criminals, according to Prah.

Aside from that, they are lobbying legislators in their countries to enact laws that can be used to prosecute cybercrime. “You cannot prosecute someone for misusing a computer,” Prah said, in discussing Ghana’s current laws.

The police are not working alone to stem the wave of cybercrime. Ghana’s biggest cybercafe, BusyInternet Ghana Ltd., recently installed software that blocks access to all secured shopping sites.

Estelle Akofio-Sowah, the cybercafe’s managing director, said BusyInternet was motivated to take that action because the scams were not reflecting well on the business, and also because the business’ management wanted to help save Ghana’s reputation.

According to Akofio-Sowah, the software is working well, and the scam gangs have disappeared from the cybercafe.

Security professionals like Allotey are encouraging other cybercafes to follow Busyinternet’s example.

He is also encouraging cybercafes to record and save user logs and to use cameras, to help track the criminals.