The Internet is rapidly changing the information landscape in Africa, much to the chagrin of despotic leaders.
In countries where information is tightly controlled or where the primary sources of information are pro-government propaganda outlets, citizens have for years been fed healthy doses of deception, half truths and sometimes outright lies. For the citizens of these countries, the Internet provides a way for people to go through government censorship and get information from credible international sources. They are able to use social media platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp to share information directly, eliminating the use of third party information outlets.
For some African countries, the Internet, especially the use of social media is becoming a major headache.
Recently in the small West African nation of Sierra Leone, the country's half literate information Minister Mohamed Bangura* promised to block social media in the country stating that he did not care about the consequences and scornfully referred to on human rights organizations advocating for personal freedoms, as "human left." Thinking of course that the opposite of civil rights was civil lefts.
Even though Mohamed Bangura may just have been blowing hot air and likely has no clue about how the Internet works, people in Africa need to be aware that the Internet, for all its advantages, poses some real dangers. Such dangers include the proliferation of computer viruses which can damage expensive computer viruses, the spread of the phishing scams in which people lose tremendous amount of money by either exposing their private information to scam artists. People sometimes respond to offers that are too good to be true, or fall for other variants of Internet Scams perfected in Eastern Europe, USA and even West African countries like Nigeria and Ghana, Nigeria of course being the more notorious.
On a recent trip to Sierra Leone, I went to an Internet Cafe to try and see whether a check I was expecting had been deposited into my bank account. Before checking my account, I quickly browsed the installed programs to see what type of antivirus program was installed on the computer. There was none! I just quickly browsed some news sites and left. No way was I going to expose my banking information on a computer without any form of security.
As mobile technology proliferates in African countries allowing Internet access through mobile phones, few people are aware of the potential dangers such a rapid expansion presents to individual users. I have therefore decided to outline quite a few of the common problems that could end up being a headache for the trusting use. The list is by no means exhaustive.
I hope my people in Sierra Leone and other parts of Africa benefiting from the spread of the monile web become cognizant of these dangers. From the Minister in our capital Freetown, to my Uncle Amara in our hometown Segbwema, nobody is too sophisticated to fall for the clever scam artist.
The following are some of the morw common scams to be aware of while using the Internet:
The Help Me Move Money Scam
This scam was perfected in Nigeria. It is usually a convincing letter from a very important sounding person who has access to a large amount of money which he wants to deposit in your account for protection. You will of course receive 10% of the money. It could be the "Son of the late President Abacha, Barrister Goodluck Jonathan, Engineer Joseph Smith, etc"
The only thing you will have to do is to send your bank account information and send some money to facilitate the transfer. If you fall for this trap and send some money, they will ask you to send more, until they either bleed you dry or put you in a huge financial hole by the time you realize what's going on. Many have fallen victim to this particular trick, some losing all their lives savings.
The Work from Home Scam
Many people would love the opportunity to sit at home and work from the comfort of their own living rooms while making respectable weekly amounts of money. Scam artists are also aware of this and usually send people emails offering jobs that would pay a large amount of money for people to either shop from home, forward packages, forward emails, close envelopes, enter data, etc, all from the comfort of their home. There is however a catch, as the potential home employee needs to pay for the training materials needed to learn how to make use of this wonderful opportunity.
The Stranded Relative Scam
In this scam you receive an email from a distraught relative who is going to Sierra Leone but has missed both his flight and lost his wallet in London. He doesn't even have an ID card so he wants you to send money urgently to London in care of a friend William Smith. Your relative sounds so distressed that all you want to do is help, even though you are not even aware that he left for Africa. The relative sounds so distressed that you do not even bother to take a phone and call that relative to verify the information. It is only after you have already sent the money that you will realize that you've just been taken for a ride. Sometimes is so embarrassing you are ashamed to tell anybody.
This was one of the earliest forms of the Internet scam, but it now declining in popularity. You receive an email that your name has just been drawn as the winner of a grand Internet lottery in the UK or some other far flung country. Congratulations, you've just become a millionaire! You now imagine that your relatives in Makeni or Kenema are finally free from financial stress for a long time. All you need to do is send all your personal information and your bank account number to receive this sweet hand of providence. You do not even think. All you want to do is be the big man you've always dreamed of. Alas, the next day when you go to the bank your account has been drained. You just fell for a trick.
Sometimes you receive an email with a link to complete a survey or answer some questions about a product. As soon as you click on the link, the originators install spyware on your computer which tracks and steals your sensitive information. Your accounts and other sensitive mad private information may all be collected and these people can even obtain loans in your name, because they know everything about you.
Suspicious Activity Scam
Sometimes you get an email from your bank that there is suspicious activity with one or more of your accounts. The email asks you to click on a link and access your account. As soon as you do this the scammers now have access to your account and can do anything they like. So never respond to any letter from your bank asking you to click on a link. Banks do not do this. Some of the letters are so genuine you won't even doubt their veracity. Scammers are very smart crooked people
Your Computer is Infected Scam
Sometimes you visit a website and suddenly you get a message that your computer may be infected by a virus. You receive an offer for a free scan and the scan reveals that your computer is of course infected and would be cleaned for some amount of money. You pay that money and you are assured that your computer is now clean, only that it was never infected in the first place and you may end up getting malware are on your computer.
So my African folks, as we all continue to enjoy the benefits of the web, never forget some of its dangers and try to install security software on your computers. It could end up saving you some big money in the future.