They are young men who live their lives on the fast lane. They love the good things of life but lack the legitimate means to acquire them. Rather than seek legitimate means of fulfilling their fantasies, they took to cybercrimes, defrauding unsuspecting individuals and organisations until they recently came under the radar of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The onslaught by operatives of the anti-corruption agency has since dislodged these young persons from their bases in the urban centres to various rural communities, particularly in the Southwest to escape EFCC’s searchlight.
It was gathered that many remote settlements in Lagos, Oyo, Osun, Ondo, Ekiti and Ogun states are now hosts to fleeing internet fraudsters. They include communities like Ikotun, Ojodu-Berger, Alagbado, Abule Egba, Badagry, Ijanikin, Oto-Awori, Lambe, Matogun, Giwa, Oke Aro, Ajuwon, Akute, Ifo, Ewekoro, Ilaro, Ijebu Ode, Sagamu, Ilisan Remo, Itele, Atan, Ogbomoso, Oshogbo, Ado Ekiti, and Akure, safe havens where some of the embattled fraudsters are now recruiting young school leavers into their syndicates.
True to its slogan, ‘you can run but you can’t hide’, however, the anti-graft agency is unrelenting in smoking out the scammers popularly called yahoo boys from their various hideouts. One such was a raid carried out in the early hours of June 16 at Itele, a sleepy community near Ota in Ogun State, in June this year. Residents of the community were roused recently by the unusual presence of EFCC operatives who cordoned off several roads as they searched vehicles that moved in and out of the community in an operation that was to shock unsuspecting residents.
A few minutes later, their targets were picked up in their posh vehicles while one of the scammers escaped in his car.
At the end of the raid, the operatives attached to the Lagos Zonal Office of EFCC arrested five yahoo boys, namely Adeshina Michael, Ayeni Emiloju, Odenigbo Anthony, Afolabi Gbenga and Oyibogbola David Seun.
Posh cars of different brands allegedly acquired with the proceeds of their fraudulent activities were recovered from the suspects.
Investigation conducted by our correspondent revealed that no fewer than 32 internet fraudsters who had relocated from Lagos to Ogbomosho in Oyo State were smoked out of their hideouts on Tuesday, August 11 by personnel of Ibadan Zonal Office of the EFCC,
In October last year, anti-graft personnel recovered the sum of N223 million from the bank account of an alleged internet fraud kingpin, Ajayi Gbenga Festus, during a raid on his hideout in Ekiti State.
The suspect was allegedly the head of a syndicate dislodged from the city, who relocated to a remote community in Ado-Ekiti to beat the dragnet of the EFCC.
According to the spokesman of the Ibadan Zonal Head of the anti-graft agency, Mr Friday Ebelo, during a media briefing at Iyaganku, Ibadan zonal office, Festus was working in concert with other cyber criminals overseas.
He described Festus’ cartel as ”highly sophisticated web of a conspiracy designed to illegally access the accounts of individuals and organisations to defraud them of their money.”
He added: “Illicit transactions made through Festus’ Nigerian bank accounts amounted to N223 million. The suspect served as a conduit pipe through which proceeds of crime reached members of the syndicate.”
Ebelo added that Festus had pocketed up to N75 million within eight months from the illicit transactions.
Like others, 26 yahoo boys were smoked out of his Modzak Hotel in Abule Egba, a suburb of Lagos on December 4, 2019.
The raid was carried out by EFCC personnel attached to its Ibadan zonal office on a hotel believed to be a hideout for internet fraudsters.
The operation was a sequel to a manhunt for one Rasaq Balogun, a suspected internet fraud kingpin, whose illicit activities were uncovered during a raid on the hideout of suspected internet scammers in Abeokuta, Ogun State.
Balogun was said to have recruited and harboured in his Modzak Hotel (in Abule Egba) yahoo boys to carry out scams on the internet.
The suspected kingpin and 26 other young men whose age ranged between 18 and 35, we’re arrested and taken to the Commission’s Ibadan zonal office for further interrogation.
Also recovered from the suspects were three vehicles, fetish items, laptops, mobile phones, and documents suspected to contain fraudulent data from the suspect.
What suspects do to escape EFCC’s dragnet
To beat security checks and law enforcement agents on their trail, able-bodied traders, artisans and other individuals are recruited to watch out for security operatives who might be trailing them to their abodes.
Besides this strategy, the ubiquitous internet conmen most times do not park their vehicles where they live. Their cars are mostly parked overnight somewhere else in their neighbourhoods.
In the morning, the cars are driven by the spies hired by them to their streets without parking in front or driving into their homes to prevent the minions of law who might be lurking around from intercepting them.
These were the strategies deployed by the yahoo boys at Itele area of Ota to escape the EFCC dragnet until they were finally busted in June this year.
“For several months, residents hired by these boys supplied them information about the movements of people suspected to be security agents. Once they were alerted, the boys would abandon their homes for several weeks and would only return when they are told by their spies that the coast is clear.
“They also park their cars several metres away from their homes so that EFCC operatives would not suspect them of being their targets.
“However, EFCC operatives swept on them at dawn, and before their spies could alert them, five of them were intercepted in their cars after a stop and search operation on their vehicles in the neighbourhood,” said a source.
Parents submit their children to yahoo boys for apprenticeship
Some parents in some of the aforementioned communities, who are carried away by the luxury lifestyle of this army of fraudsters, are now in the habit of voluntarily giving up their children for apprenticeship as yahoo boys without considering the consequences of their action on the future of their children.
Some of the areas affected include the backstreets of Sagamu and Ilisan-Remo, Ikotun and Ojodu-Berger where internet scammers are flourishing in their unlawful acts. In the ancient Ilisan-Remo community, it was gathered that some parents are fond of begging their young children to be apprenticed by scammers who live like kings in the communities.
“Some residents, who are swept off their feet by the lavish lifestyle of these cyber fraudsters, have lured their children into the act by sending them to these yahoo syndicates in the communities.
”The trend is quite worrisome because most of these yahoo apprentices are young school leavers who are being misled by their parents all in a bid to reap untimely from their labour on them,” a community leader in Ilisan, who spoke in confidence, told The Nation.
“The boys were initially living in Lagos but many of them relocated to Sagamu when the law enforcement agents were closing in on them and they later moved to Ilisan to further escape arrest,” he added.
It will be recalled that on May 28, 2019, personnel of the Lagos zonal office of EFCC uncovered a training institute operated by suspected fraudsters in Ojodu/Berger, a suburb of Lagos.
According to the acting spokesman of the Commission, Mr. Tony Orilade, the training centre with eight students was established by a 22-year-old internet fraudster and was busted by undercover operatives of the agency.
Orilade said: “We did an undercover operation and even acted as part of the students of the training school. We got first-hand information because we were part of the students of the school.
“The boys believe that yahoo yahoo is a form of business, but we are saying no, it is not a way of life or business. You can imagine, the owner is just a 22-year-old boy. He is intelligent but negatively so.
“The scheme of work, content, and curriculum put the school under the category of yahoo yahoo training school.
“The students were aged 24, 29, 23, 21, 19, 22 and 20 years respectively, while nine laptops,16 mobile phones, one internet modem, Orange wifi, and Toyota Camry were recovered from the school.”
While promising that EFCC would continue to step up the fight against internet fraudsters, Orilade urged members of the public to help the Commission with information on other yahoo yahoo training schools in existence elsewhere.
Orilade’s call for support paid off on Thursday, August 29, 2019, when about 12 suspected fraudsters were arrested by EFCC operatives during a raid on another yahoo yahoo training school in Ikotun area of Alimosho, a Lagos suburb.
The school was established to train young persons in the art of using the internet to defraud victims.
The suspects include Oluwaseun Ogunbunmi, Haruna Yussuf, Olubori Hassan; Wasiu Idowu; Basit Adeniran; Aina Olajuwon; Okafor Joseph; David Ado; Olamide Ogunseye; Opeyemi Ahmed; Monsuru Amao and Taiwo Rasak. Their arrest followed complaints by residents of the area to the EFCC on the activities of the proprietors of the training school operated from a rented three-bedroom apartment.
The school’s proprietors were said to have recruited their trainees from the community while some parents also enrolled their children in the school for apprenticeship.
Several laptops and mobile phones were recovered from the school as suspects attempted to bolt by hiding in the roof of the apartment.
Undergraduates in the fray
In the last few months, several suspects arrested by officials of the EFCC have been discovered to be undergraduates or even graduates.
Out of the 32 suspected fraudsters arrested in an Ogbomosho raid, 22 of them were found to be undergraduates and recent graduates.
A statement released by the zonal office of EFCC indicated that personnel of the anti-graft agency swept on the location of the suspects after careful analysis of a series of intelligence gathered on their alleged criminal activities.
“Three of the suspects claimed to be serving members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), 19 were undergraduates of various universities across the country, while the remaining 10 laid claims to sundry vocations.
“Twelve exotic cars, several phones, laptops, and some incriminating documents were recovered from them,” the statement added.
Suspects prosecuted, loots recovered
A number of suspected fraudsters have been prosecuted and jailed in recent times and their loot forfeited. On July 20, 2020, a notorious internet fraudster, Gbenga Ajayi, was jailed and his assets were forfeited to the Federal Government.
Ajayi was pronounced guilty by Justice Ibrahim Watilat of the Federal High Court, Abeokuta, Ogun State and sentenced to one-year imprisonment for internet fraud.
Festus had earlier refunded N1.4 million to the government through the EFCC.
He was prosecuted by the Ibadan Zonal Office of the EFCC on a one-count charge of criminal impersonation.
His prosecution followed his arrest in October 2019 during a raid conducted in his hideout in Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State.
He was said to be the brains behind high wired internet-related frauds and was subsequently arraigned on eight-count charge bordering on criminal impersonation and obtaining money by false pretence. The charges were amended to one-count, to which he pleaded guilty.
The judge also ordered that the convict forfeits his uncompleted one-story building, located in Ado-Ekiti, a Toyota Corolla car, one gold-colour iPhone, among other proceeds of crime, to the federal government.
Also, 111 out of 263 suspected fraudsters arrested by the Ibadan Zonal office of EFCC were prosecuted and convicted for cybercrime related offences with various jail terms.
According to its zonal spokesman, Ebelo, the zone recovered money, landed properties, vehicles, laptops, phones and many others from the scammers.
Ebelo disclosed that N7,461,378, $56,452, 400 Canadian dollars, 65 pounds and 2,400 euros, were recovered from suspects through the constant support of international law enforcement organisations, especially America’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
It will be recalled that the suspended Acting Chairman of EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, had disclosed last year also that the collaboration between the Commission and FBI led to the recovery of $314,000 and about N373 million from internet scammers by its Lagos office.