Dealing with fraud and internet "love": women and cybercrime in Burkina Faso

Rachid Traoré, the Communications Officer for the Burkina Faso Ministry of Posts and New Technologies, defines cybercrime as all the crimes committed by persons using information technology and the internet, including to send spam, hoaxes, worms and viruses, to design and create false documents, or to develop and watch pornography, paedophilia.


Fraud has always been around

According to Sylvestre Ouédraogo, coordinator of the Yam Pukri Association who works on the promotion and popularisation of information and communication technologies (ICT), fraud, or 419 (the name of the article condemning it in Nigeria) is an old method. It has always existed. Verbally,   or via a simple letter, fax or telephone call, people have managed to extort enormous sums from others. Sylvestre Ouédraogo also maintains that when a new technique appears, fraud adapts itself. The fact that it is increasingly wide-reaching and visible is simply due to the simplicity, low usage costs and distribution of messages via the internet.  In fact through this method, fraudsters may send thousands of messages to as many individuals with just one click.


In this case, “Everyone could be had, especially if they show off profitable businesses” warns Amidou, a victim.  “Once you have fallen into that trap, you will definitely have a complaint to lodge, even if the law does not currently provide for such fraud. While waiting for the law to come up with the most effective anti-fraud measures... it is best to not respond to messages", he advises. With regard to messaging, it is possible to activate some filters and thus block the receipt of undesirable messages, and those coming from unknown senders.


If such correspondence inundates the mailboxes of citizens, it is because distribution is coming from a specific location. In Ouagadougou as well as Bobo-Dioulasso or Pô, nearly all internet cafés have become places of work for these cyber criminals. They “work” with the knowledge of the internet café managers. “But why are you blacklisting internet café managers as accomplices? Are we supposed to monitor the screens of every customer? In the same way, should the National Telecommunications Office listen in to every customer, since many frauds also take place via the telephone?” asks Souleymane Zongo, an internet café manager, who then continues in a defensive tone, "should we check the identity of the men who the girls meet when they come to look for a correspondent-lover or get recruited into prostitution networks?” Such limited claim of responsibility by internet café managers allows fraudsters freedom to act, as well as for women who are seeking partners on the net.


Finding love (or something else) on the net

“Chatting is a place of freedom, and women only have to get used to it. It should not be forgotten that, for many years, people have written letters to try to get “picked up”.And with chatting, as in real life, the woman may or may not fall prey to deception”, maintains Roger, a sociology student.Thus, some girls state that they have found happiness in cyberspace, as the joyful Emilia, a secretary, confirms: “I found my partner on the netSoon, we are getting married".She is proclaiming her happiness from the rooftops, and even advising some of her friends to try their luck in cyberspace.


For marriage counsellor, Rock Damiba, love born in cyberspace is superficial: “In addition to searching for the ideal husband, some girls surf the internet just to have adventures with older men living in the West, looking for good female company. In general, these men are looking for young girls, with whom they can satisfy their fantasies.” “Some girls, believing that they have met the love of their life, are in actual fact registered on prostitution networks,” emphasises Ahmed, the friend of a victim he is no longer in touch with. “On the same note,” states Ahmed, “some girls also manage to attain money from men whom they met online.” Some internet sites visited by seekers of love and their virtual partners include meetic.com, sunlove.com, recontreserieuse.com, etc. According to relationship specialist, Rock Damiba, the fact that women are enthusiastically approaching the internet as a valuable platform to seek for a partner shows their lack of landmarks: “By landmarks, I mean people in whom they can confide, share their problems, find their way. If these girls do not have this basis, and chatting offers such a setting for them, then it will merely be a frantic race for them towards this means".


Frédéric Robert Ilboudo, a journalist, conceives of the net as a fertile ground for cybercrime. As discovered by young women, the internet is a viable vehicle to make money and become involved in sex work, specifies Rachid Traoré, the Communications Officer for the Ministry of Posts and New Technologies. With regards to sex work, the women offer their services to clients, who directly enquire about their descriptions to find out whether they are “to their taste”.  Moreover, emphasises Rachid Traoré, some individuals, under the pretext of loving them, exploit their naiveté and ask them to send nude photographs of themselves. Then these photographs are published on the worldwide web without the women's consent. This is what happened to a Cameroonian girl, three years ago.  For Rachid Traoré, the dignity of women has come under attack with the development and popularisation of instant communication technologies. According to him, “In Burkina Faso, cybercrime is not linked to gender.  It is practised by men as well as women. However, women are most often the victims, even if there are cybercriminals amongst them”.  As no statistics exist, Rachid Traoré considers it difficult to assess the impact of cybercrime on women.


The many faces of fraud

Women who are victims of fraud also engage in committing fraud and extortion, sending messages that promise enormous sums of money and adventure.  This message from Flora Abed landed up in the mailbox of Souleymane, a journalist, "I will send you the documents and contact details for the company where my father has left the box containing the money once you have agreed to help me and my brother.  All you have to do is give me your telephone and banking details, so that I can contact you.  The money left by my father is worth 9.5 million dollars. I will give you 10% of this amount if you help me to recover my father's fortune.  I hope to hear from you soon.  May God bless you, and strengthen our relationship". 


This email, like many others, mentions a widow, the sister, daughter or mother of an assassinated head of state. She, the close relation, is the victim of false imprisonment, and is thus unable to withdraw the funds inherited from the deceased strongman of the country. In addition, she appeals to the generosity of these good and generous souls to transfer the money to another country.  In order to compensate these kind hearted souls, the perpetrators of the fraud offer tempting commissions, from 10 to 50% of the initial amount, which sometimes amount to tens of billions.

“Lured by gain or pity, people let themselves fall into a trap," regrets Léon, the manager of an internet café. 


There are also scams involving email messages that names a recipient as being the winner of sweepstakes, such as of the Euro100,000 prize in the Coca-cola games.  Or informing the recipient that s/he has just obtained a United States visa and must pay Euro 150 to begin administrative procedures.


Education and Legislative Measures

Modibo believes that the people who fall into these traps are those who are keen on finding easy roads to success. In his opinion, “Any flatterer lives at the expense of the person listening to him” and he concludes in a humorous but realistic tone, “When you love things that are free and easy to come by, you fall to your death when a fraudster comes along”. This thirst for easy gain therefore “Creates numerous victims in Burkina Faso because internet users are not sensitive to the dangers that sometimes come along with the enormous possibilities offered by the internet",  acknowledges Younoussa Sanfo,  the director of Intrapole, an operation which fights against ICT security threats. His organisation offers data protection solutions to any interested individuals. According to Colonel Mamadi Aouba, the President of the Club de la Sécurité des Systèmes d’information (Information Systems Security Club), cybercrime, especially “419” Nigerian fraud, yields approximately three (3) million dollars a year in Nigeria. With regard to Burkina Faso, no data exists on the amount extorted by fraudsters. 


The Yam Pukri Association and the Burkina NTIC network, both of which are involved in the information and communication technology domain, have developed rules of conduct for internet cafés.  These rules are intended for the proper management of internet centres.  They mainly consist of protecting minors, and blocking pornographic and child pornography sites that might be visited by children.  This charter states that managers must attempt to guide children towards educational and instructive sites, in order to educate them on making the most of the potential offered by the internet.  Except for this private initiative, directives  against virtual crimes and other offences do not exist. 


Currently, the Burkinan Government is working on amending the Penal Code in relation to apprehending and punishing crimes and offences committed using information and communication technologies. This amendment will create provisions for the fight against ICT-related crime.  Nevertheless, the fight against this phenomenon is a matter for police and gendarmerie prerogatives. However, police must be adequately trained so that they are able to properly grasp these new problems, confirms Rachid Traoré. Training for lawyers and other legal professionals is also necessary. This is because many magistrates are unaware of nearly all crimes committed using information technology, the internet and other technological tools, emphasises Rachid Traoré.


While waiting for all these provisions to come into effect, the Burkinan Government established the Commission informatique des libertés (Commission for Data Protection - CIL) on 16 April 2008. The objective of this commission is to ensure and guarantee the protection of private and individual data such as identities, photographs, telephone numbers, bank account numbers, credit cards, etc. According to the CIL President, Alimata Ouattara, the existence of his organisation is a first in Africa.  Its objective is to institute an obligation of transparency in the collection and use of personal data.  It sets the rules of usage for such data, and establishes new rights for persons listed in registries or data banks. 


Ramata Soré

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See also the small doc film Burkina-Ntic made on young girls in Bobo Dioulasso who 'date' via the Internet, "L'ame soeur par le bout de la toile":<br />http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8GyzQZFZT4o&eurl=http://www.burkina-ntic....
Posted on 08/27/2008 - 11:37 | Reply

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