By Gloria Ibesi
419 as defined by the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English is “an illegal way of getting money from someone by sending them an email promising that they will make a lot of money if they invest in a business activity which does not really exist”. For Wikipedia, it is known also as “advance-fee scam” which is “a form of fraud and is one of the most common types of confidence tricks.
The scam typically involves promising the victim a significant share of a large sum of money, in return for a small up-front payment, which the fraudster claims will be used to obtain the large sum. When a victim makes the payment, the fraudster either invents a series of further fees for the victim to pay or simply disappears.” It is also termed ‘Nigerian prince scam’.
Researche points out the name “419” as derives from a section of the Nigerian Law that con artistry and fraud comes under, hence, its association with Nigerians. Many believe that the designation of 419 as name of scam originated from the article 419 of the Nigerian Criminal Code which deals with fraud and the charges and penalties for such offenders. Although Nigeria is most often, the nation referred to in these scams, they mainly originated in some other nations known to have a high incidence of advance-fee fraud including: Ivory Coast, Togo, South Africa, Netherlands, Spain, Poland, and Jamaica.
The prevailing fashion of 419 asides the online scams, have been people swindling others off their belongings either by spellbinding or deception using invented claims to make their victims release money and other valuables in their possessions belonging to them or to other people, to them (scammers).
This scammers or ‘419ners’ as some people call them, are many at times, well dressed men, seldom women who go about looking for individuals to prey on. While some of them disguise themselves as stranded people seeking either financial help or otherwise.
They move about looking for victims especially at places with high attraction of crowd. Many have fallen victim of their dupery both old and young, including men and women and many have involuntarily parted with many valuables of theirs to them. Some of them go as far as luring or kidnapping young girls and molesting them after swindling them off their valuables.
Between 2015 and 2020, there was an unknown gang who juggled and defrauded many people in a offline scam which recorded many victims. Scarcely then, would you go out any day without hearing tales of people who had encounters with them in Awka and environs.
The guys operated with a car where they are usually two in number. At the sight of a targeted victim, while moving about in their car, one of them alights from the car, the one who is driving, drives towards their victims who are usually individuals moving on the road on foot. The driver stops or slows down and calls the attention of the person making it seem like he is a traveller who has lost his way and needs someone to direct him.
When he has successfully gotten the attention of the victim, he introduces himself as a either a Cameroonian or someone who just got back from somewhere outside the country who neither speaks nor understands Igbo Language. He then asks for direction, mentioning a name of a nonexistent motherless babies home or hospital. Stories has it that their charm takes over most of their victims while replying them.
The partner comes from nowhere acting as another passer-by trying to help and then persuades the victim to join him in assisting the stranded man. The victim who ends up entering the car is now taken to a lonely place and made to give up money and other valuables they have. Sometimes, the victims are sent to their homes to bring any money, jewelry and even ATM cards they can find.
That was how a classmates of mine lost all the money given to her by her mother to get food stuffs from the market, still went home, collected all her Mum’s jewelries and gave to them. The victims become free from the charm after the scammers have fled. At times like that, people were admonished to cease talking to strangers and school children were advised to flee at the sight of any car stopping close to them.
In what seems to be a current mode of operation, a few individuals have in recent past, told their encounters with some scammers who now operate inside church environments. A young lady, name undisclosed, narrated how she was engaged in a discussion by a young man who posed as a gifted man of God inside the church, and ended up losing her phone to him. ‘after the usual church Saturday morning activities.
I stood somewhere at the church compound, waiting for my sister so we could go home together. A man approached me and asked me if I knew I had a special call. I didn’t reply. He further said I have a good star and told me about a certain lady who he met in one Catholic church, prayed for and directed on what to do and the lady got a nice job in a bank and also got married.
He gave me a bible and a chaplet and said I should move close to the altar and pray. At that point, I was not sure of how I was feeling but I stood up leaving my phone on the pew where I was sitting, went to the altar and said the prayers as he directed me. When I was done, I turned and could find neither my phone nor the man. He took my phone and left, leaving his bible and chaplet with me’.
She narrated. She described the man, according to her discretion, to be in his thirties or forties, average in height, slightly dark skinned and bears a very low hair cut. Other stories of experiences of people with these church scammers have been told where people have been deceived and their bags stolen. Long before now, people’s belongings have been stolen inside churches including footwears left at the entrance of Adoration Chapels.
The faithful are hereby admonished to be vigilant, as wolves now dwell among sheep, the Church which is meant to be the house of God has been employed by some mischievous characters for thievery. Again, many scammers now parade themselves as men of God just as many false churches and false prophets are springing up every day.
The Church is the last place a person should leave with a sorrowful heart but some lazy people who have vowed to live off other people’s sweat have altered it. Many people call themselves men of God but only very few of them know God. Likewise, many people go to church but with dissimilar intentions. Let us be cautious for even the bible says in the book of Mathew 7:15; ”Be on your guard against false prophets; they come to you looking like sheep on the outside, but on the inside, they are really like wild wolves”.