Victor Ayeni

In this report, VICTOR AYENI examines the recent trend of scams that involve sending financial inducement promises, malware links, and part-time online job offers via SMS to mobile phone subscribers and messaging platforms with the intent to defraud those unlucky to fall prey

The sudden beep on Adedeji Ishola’s phone jolted him out of his reverie one evening in February 2023. He leaned forward to check his phone, only to realise it was just a text message.

Quirking his lips in disbelief at the content, the 32-year-old quickly checked the identity of the sender and found it just had the initials, KMIMK, which was unfamiliar, but one that he instantly assumed could be a job recruiting agency.

For almost a year after Ishola graduated from the university, the Ogbomoso indigene earnestly sought a good employment offer and this quest led to his relocation to squat with a friend in Lagos, a place where he believed held better opportunities for him.

“I relocated to Lagos last year and found a menial job in an event centre in Ojodu. But the pay was very poor compared to the workload. So, I was desperately on the lookout for another job offer. I was very happy when I received this text message telling me that I just landed a job with a salary of N78,000 per day.

“The message included a link and a phone number. When I clicked on the link, it redirected me to a WhatsApp number, where I started chatting with a man who identified himself as Mr John. He asked if I was ready to carry out the task required for me to get paid, and I quickly answered yes.

“That was how I was instructed to help people promote their YouTube channel or generate traffic to their online store. After some time, John personally contacted me through WhatsApp and I sent him evidence (screenshots) of my subscriptions to the YouTube pages. I was paid N2,000 for each task,” Ishola told our correspondent.

The scales began to fall off Ishola’s eyes when he was added to a Telegram group created by the supposed agency and his tasks were increased.

“In that group, they were posting tasks for me almost every minute and it was hard to keep up. The initial salary they promised was N78, 000 but I never got paid this amount, yet I was spending more time on my phone and lots of money on data.

“After two weeks, the admin of the platform told me that there was another level known as the Merchant Paid tasks, and for me to qualify for it, I would have to invest money. He said the higher I invest, the more returns I will get.

“That was how I went and borrowed N20,000 from a friend and invested. After some hours, I found out that I had been removed from the group and blocked by John. They did me dirty,” Ishola said with a tinge of regret in his voice.

Unlike, Ishola who was first contacted by the fraudsters via a text message, another Lagos resident, Mr Akintayo Olaniyan, said he was directly contacted by an agency offering a part-time job opportunity via WhatsApp.

“A lady contacted me on the messaging app, saying she has an online digital job offer for me. I believed her and she began to send me online tasks to perform and paid me between N600 and N2,000. Later, she introduced me to another offer, which she claimed pays higher but with a caveat that I must invest.

“I paid N110,000 for each task but my payment still didn’t increase. It was at the point that she told me to increase my payment to N190,000 to get higher pay for the tasks that it dawned on me that I had fallen victim to a scam syndicate. I felt so bad. I’m just getting over the shock. These people are big scammers and Nigerians should be wary of them,” he advised.

Thriving scammers’ den

Findings by Sunday PUNCH revealed that one of the tactics deployed by job scammers is to operate nationally, targetting senior citizens, lower income earners and the general working population with SMS and phone numbers purported to be from major political groups to receivers, promising financial palliatives in exchange for support.

They also dangle unbelievable salaries and commissions to be paid upon completion of tasks assigned daily.

Another form of the job scam, which is more intricate and international in scope, is aimed at duping unemployed graduates, professionals, and tech-savvy young adults.

In the latter, the bait offered to the potential victims differs but the pattern adopted is often predictable and the same.

The scammers mainly use WhatsApp and Telegram to reach out to potential victims but when these two messaging apps are absent on the receiver’s phone, their messages come in as spam SMS with a phone number and a link to be clicked.

To the unwary, desperate, and credulous target that receives the fraudulent message for a job with an unimaginable daily or weekly wage, the mouth-watering offers highlighted are too tempting to resist.

When a potential victim calls the mobile number provided, usually any of the Nigerian service providers, the person is instructed to reel out bank details, account balance, and a digital code already sent to the phone.

Once the victim does as instructed and sends all, the person’s account is instantly emptied.

Meanwhile, the scammers who operate with international numbers often impersonate various digital and job recruiting agencies and display photos of beautiful ladies as a decoy on their WhatsApp or Telegram profiles.

After completing a series of online tasks, which range from subscribing to YouTube channels to writing online reviews, their victims are added to specific platforms where they would be asked to invest a certain amount of money to receive higher pay.

Others are asked to deposit money into specific cryptocurrency exchange platforms such as KuCoin or Shakepay, with the assurance that the platform would transfer it back, along with the commission earned, as soon as the task is completed.

An X (formerly Twitter) user with the name ‘Chuky Unadulterated’, in a series of posts, explained how these scams weave their intricate web of deceit to entrap unsuspecting individuals.

“They will ask you to do a test task and send you money on completion. Then the scamming begins. You will be given different illogical tasks of visiting random YouTube pages that have no clear indication of how money is made by simply carrying out tasks. The individual would be told to complete a task that involves investing a certain amount of money and getting a refund after 10 minutes.

“Note that by now, you would have been invited to join their ‘workgroup’ on Telegram, where the main scam continues. WhatsApp is their contact and hunting spot. Another tactic is that you would be in the Telegram group as a new worker but you won’t be able to comment because you are still being investigated and verified.

“But you will be seeing supposed members and ‘investors’ posts about receiving their commissions while you are advised to do your posting with the ‘receptionist’ who was the first person they directed you to from their WhatsApp contact.

“From here on, note that you are going to be fleeced. These people often use the names of international digital marketing companies. They have used Intero Digital, Primal and other reputable agencies’ names. This scam is rampant in India and Malaysia, but it is now in Nigeria,” he revealed.

100,000 victims, 1,000 companies fleeced globally

A cyber security firm, CloudSEK, in a report published last month, revealed that a global network of crooks is taking advantage of naive job seekers worldwide.

It noted that this type of scam nicknamed ‘Webwyrm,’ has fleeced over 100,000 victims and 1,000 companies, causing the loss of possibly over 100 million dollars.

While the scam has affected victims in more than 50 countries including Nigeria, the most targeted countries identified were the United Kingdom, Canada, Singapore, Australia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, and India.

Posing as a potential victim

Within a period of four months, our correspondent received unsolicited scam messages and got quite a chunk of similar ones forwarded to him by people who had received job offers from shady individuals and shadowy agencies.

A critical study of the text messages sent from Nigerian numbers showed that the senders are often different from those that victims are told to call.

Meanwhile, some of the messages sent read, “Thank you for voting APC! Send an account (FCMB or Keystone) to receive N75,000 from Tinubu appreciation funds. Call Mr Ben (09135******) to receive it.”

“All Progressives Congress! Send account (FCMB, Keystone, Union) to receive N65,000 from Bola Tinubu Empowerment. Call 08010******”

“Well done! You have just been gifted a token of N69,200 from Ahmed Tinubu Empowerment Funds. Call Mr Ibrahim to be credited now (08065******).”

“You have passed the audit and receive a salary of 19800 naira per day. Contact information: (link).

“I am a project manager, we are hiring a team. You can work from home, daily salary: 80000. To accept this job please click (link).”

A message from New Chance read, “Hi dear, we are looking for workers. You can work from home and earn 5000-60000 naira per day. To accept this job please click (link).

“My name is Lisa. My team is in desperate need of staff. Daily salary is 30,000NGN. If interested please contact WhatsApp (link),” sent by KMIMK

The one from WorkWithUs says, “After our initial screening, you meet our recruitment requirements, daily wages 50,000-60,000, for more details (link).

Meanwhile, a typical message purported to emanate from the banking sector read, “Congratulations, CBN has decided to give out the sum of N95,000 for COVID-19. Call Mr Emmanuel (07041******) to receive your money.”

Mr Ben the job scammer

Taking up a new name, identity, and location, our correspondent called some of the phone numbers provided in the text messages to find out how he could access the financial benefits promised.

The first number he dialled was that of the man identified as Mr Ben.

Curiously, when the man’s number was dialled on the Truecaller app using another phone, it appeared as ‘Atiku Tinubu Support scam.’

While engaging Ben, our correspondent asked how he could access the fund and was told to provide his bank details.

However, when the scammer learnt that our correspondent banks with Keystone Bank, he impatiently said it was not among the eligible banks.

“I only send funds to those who use FCMB,” he blurted. “So, if you have someone who uses the bank, send the account details and Bank Verification Number to me and I will transfer the money to you through them.”

Another scammer, when dialled, introduced himself as Mr Emmanuel but was identified by Truecaller as ‘Bank Scammer’.

The man, who claimed to work for CBN also made almost a similar request to Ben.

“If you want to claim the CBN money, send me your full name, bank name, and account number on WhatsApp. I will give you a code that you will use to access the funds. Do that now,” he commanded with a voice that appeared to be improvised.

Speaking in Pidgin English and in a noisy environment, the third scammer, Mr Ibrahim, identified by Truecaller as ‘Opay’, also requested the same details from our correspondent.

Indonesian connection

While still trying to unearth the modus operandi of these scammers preying on the desperation of Nigerians, after several days of tracking a message from an unknown WhatsApp number sent to our correspondent, it was discovered to have emanated from Indonesia.

It read, “Hi, my name is Adella, I’m a Senior Representative Officer at Casvo Digital Services Limited. Our company is recruiting part-time/full-time online employees. Our job is very simple and does not take much time, May I take a few minutes of your time?

“We are offering a job opportunity that can be done in your comfort zone. You will be rewarded with N2,000 for completing a trial task and you can get a daily income, which can give you a payment between N30,000-N50,000 daily.

“Your job is very simple, all you need to do is to like and follow YouTube pages or accounts I give to you and send me screenshots and you get paid. Our company deals with content creators, businesses, and merchants to promote their pages, who are willing to finance their worldwide popularity and exposure. Our company also works with several businesses and celebrities on YouTube.”

When our correspondent indicated an interest, Adella, who claimed to be a lady, instructed him to open a link from a YouTube channel belonging to a popular Nigerian comedian.

“Open this YouTube channel. Please, subscribe to the channel and send me the screenshot. You will be paid N2,000 for this task,” she wrote.

Out of the blue, an unknown Nigerian number with a user claiming to be Naila, sent a similar message to our correspondent.

“We are looking for a person who wants to do a flexible part-time viewing task. We are willing to pay for every task that you will finish. Are you accepting my offer? You just need to watch the video that I will send and I will pay you for it, would you like to try it?

“For the first work, I will pay N600, and you could earn up to N133,550. The goal of this activity is to assist the companies in raising their ratings. Payment will be sent to you by bank transfer after each assignment has been finished. Do you want to begin? I’ll send you a demonstration, all right?” she asked.

When our correspondent inquired where she got his number from, she claimed that they obtained it from some popular online job sites.

She explained, “We are affiliates on job sites such as Jobberman, WorkforceAfrica, HotNigerianJobs.com, and many more. They provide a number, and we are the ones to message them and propose this part-time job.

“Our company Mcjeh Digital cooperates with YouTube merchants, and YouTube merchants are willing to pay to increase their popularity, so our company needs to recruit a large number of cooperative employees, and you can get paid if you like their content on YouTube,” she wrote.”

When our correspondent pointed out that he was not registered on Jobberman or Hotnigerianjobs, and even if he did, it would be a violation of data privacy for them to supply her agency with his phone number without his consent, she abruptly stopped responding.

Nigerian banks plagued by fraud cases

A report by the Financial Institutions Training Centre disclosed that mobile fraud, computer/web fraud, and Point of Sale fraud cases made Nigerian banks record 24,232 fraud cases in the first six months of 2023.

Similarly, in 2021, the Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System Plc., stated that in the first nine months of 2020, fraudsters attempted 46,126 attacks, and they were successful on 41,979 occasions, 91 per cent of the time.

According to NIBSS, a total of 48,767 persons were defrauded in the period. Of this number, people over 40 years of age fell prey the most, with 33.97 per cent accounting for the total number of defrauded persons.

However, with the National Bureau of Statistics recent report that the country has unemployment rates of 5.3 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2022 and 4.1 per cent in the first quarter of 2023, based on the new Nigeria Labour Force Survey, it was obvious that many uninformed youths stand the risk of falling prey to online frauds.

Smarter than the scammers

Speaking about his experience, an entrepreneur, Oluwole Awosina, told our correspondent that when the fake jobs scammers contacted him on WhatsApp, he was suspicious of the link sent to him.

“These mad people contacted me via WhatsApp. They said they would pay me N5000 for each task completed and then sent me a link to complete the task. At first, I thought it was the Force Investigating Bureau that was investigating my friend trying to hack into the phones of his family and friends to get more information.

“What made me realise something was off was when I noticed that while their link could be accessible on my phone, the link was not showing when I used WhatsApp on my laptop,” he noted.

Ifeanyi Onyekachi, also recounted his experience, “I received a message from a strange number to do some online tasks to get paid and I decided to give it a shot to see where it would lead me.

“I was paid a total of N7,000 but when I refused to pay money to complete a task, I was kicked out of the platform. This happened to me a few weeks back. I was added to another group on Telegram and they were sending me Google pages to write reviews and get paid.

“It was not until they asked me to deposit a large sum of money that I realised that something was not right. I had to delete them as soon as possible.”

An unemployed graduate, who gave his name only as Lanre, said the scammers took him through the usual format until he was added to their Telegram group.

“When I got to their Telegram group and did a task, they sent me N1,000. They kept telling me to do a task that would me to send N20,000 to them, which would be returned with a 100 per cent interest in six minutes but I refused. I got a total of N5,000 before I left the group,” he said.

Clicking unknown links dangerous – Software engineer

Commenting on the growing incidents of swindlers on messaging apps, a software engineer, Mr Henry Erabor, explained to Sunday PUNCH that scammers not only send spam messages to people’s phones but also engage in what is known as ‘smishing’ in the form of text messages.

“Their spam texts are unsolicited messages sent in an attempt to gain personal or financial information. A new term that is used to describe it is smishing, from the combination of SMS and ‘phishing.’

“Smishing is a social engineering attack that uses fake mobile text messages to trick people into downloading malware, sharing sensitive information, or sending money to cybercriminals. When you receive these messages and click on the link sent, cybercriminals can have access to your bank information and personal data and this could be dangerous.

“Some of those who engage in smishing are hackers that know that victims are more likely to click on text messages than other links, and with the rate of unemployment and poverty in Nigeria, they know that if they can add the bait of a job offer or a huge sum of money to it, many people will easily fall for them,” he explained.

Erabor further advised mobile phone users to activate spam filters in their message settings to curb smishing, which he noted is now targeted at mobile phones rather than computers.

“Scammers are now more likely to use SMS or messaging apps to conduct their cybercrimes rather than emails or phone calls as was the case before. That is because it is harder to spot dangerous links on smartphones unlike on laptops,” he added.

Organisations not spared

According to Proofpoint’s 2023 State of the Phish report, about 76 per cent of organisations experienced smishing attacks in 2022.

A global tech company, Klaviyo also reported that SMS click-through rates hover between 8.9 per cent and 14. 5 per cent, whereas emails have an average click rate of only 1.33 per cent.

Experts urge increased cyber vigilance

Highlighting ways people could detect job scam messages, a tech researcher, Isaac Adegbayibi, said such messages often include a sense of urgency that gives the receiver little time to introspect.

He explained, “These cybercriminals don’t go to the Nigerian Communications Commission at all because it’s more of a regulatory agency and it operates a strict data privacy policy. What they usually do is clone banks’ websites and convince you to fill in your banks’ details so as to steal from you through the web. They can send you a text that your bank information needs to be updated and ask that you enter your account PIN or password.

“The message could also contain a threat that your account will be closed if you don’t respond on time or they tell you that your security has been compromised. People should apply caution and verify the legitimacy of anyone who claims to be representing a firm.”

On his part, a tech advisor and Artificial Intelligence expert, Dr Joseph Oche, while speaking with Sunday PUNCH, pointed out that many scammers illegally harvest individuals’ phone numbers through data breaches of companies who have them.

“The Nigerian Communications Commission is not culpable because these scammers illegally get phone numbers via various methods such as the dark web, number generators, and web-scraping. There’s an option for partial and full DND via 2442 (prompt that allows subscribers/customers to opt out totally from receiving any unsolicited messages via SMS), and also an avenue to directly report issues to NCC via 622.

“Downloading and using call blockers on your phone could also protect you from identified scammers. On the other hand, data breaches at companies that have your information on file are increasingly on the rise leading to the high availability of phone numbers to be purchased on the dark web by scammers. Companies need to invest better in cyber security to protect their user information from getting into the wrong hands,” he advised.

Also commenting on the menace, an Information technology expert, Mr Oluwaseun Owolagbon, said, “These job scammers have certain ways of getting one’s information, especially phone numbers through social media, job portals, virtual CVs, and other digital footprints that require this information.

“Many people put certain information about themselves on virtual platforms and these scammers can easily access these things and reach out to the person pretending to be employers. Six or seven years ago, it used to be SMS sent to unwary people inviting them to job interviews and when they arrived there, they found out that they are affiliate marketers looking for youths to hawk their products.

“To curb this, you have to be careful about the type of information you put out on job sites or apps requiring your email and phone number. Do your homework by checking on the company’s credibility, activate the settings to log out of such sites, and avoid clicking on strange links from untrustworthy sources.”

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