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Internet Romance Scam: Stakeholders discuss menace, proffer solutions to mitigate cyber fraud

As a sequel to DUBAWA’s recent investigation on serial internet romance fraudster Iriodalo Emmanuel Obhafuoso (Odalo), an X (formerly Twitter) space was held to identify the causes and proffer solutions to curb internet fraud.

The X space held on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023, headlined “Internet Romance Fraud: Mitigating scams and ensuring justice for victims.” 

The session gathered professionals and resource persons from diverse industries, including DUBAWA’s copy editor, Simbiat Bakare, Elizabeth Ogunbamowo, DUBAWA’s fact-checker, and legal practitioner, Ifiok Uko. A public mental health advocate, Dr Ola Ibigbami, and Dr Francis Agbaraolorunpo, who practices medicine and doubles as an academic, were also present. 

Women Radio 91.7’s broadcast journalist, Esther Alaribe, moderated the session.

Ms Bakare, who conducted the investigation and authored its report, stated in her opening remark that the execution of the investigation only amplifies the core ideals of DUBAWA. She promoted the organisation’s mission to investigate assertions, amplify the truth, and ensure a safe internet space for all. 

Furthermore, Ms Alaribe instantly piqued Dr Ibigbami for an explicit reality that victims of internet scams come to terms with. 

The seasoned public mental health advocate Dr Ibigbami confirmed that victims of internet scams blame themselves for such a hapless situation. According to him, they rarely excuse the stigma that society puts on them.

They blame themselves for being vulnerable. (Also) there is a stigma attached to it,” he explained. 

Dr Ibigbami, however, quickly corrected that victims must stop seeing themselves as the erring ones in such a situation. Rather, they must realise they were preyed upon and manipulated to give out their valuables. He also pointed out that victims, at some point, would want to do “something” about it– a reaction borne out of loss and anger. Dr Ibigbami then stated that at such a moment, the injured person should seek the audience of someone they can talk to.

“They have to express themselves to somebody,” the public mental health practitioner encouraged.

Finally, Dr Ibigbami stated that victims may seek legal address if they desire retribution.

On the legal angle, Esq. Ifiok Uko pointed out that the interpretations of the laws handicap citizens in the country. 

“We don’t know. We don’t have awareness (of the law),” he pointed out. 

Esq Uko also acknowledged the Cybercrime Act 2015 but sadly stated that the provisions in the sections are almost always never enforced. 

“Is it practicable? Will the judges give judgement?” Esq Uko questioned.

He further noted that Nigerian judges never grasp the realities of what transpires on the internet, and that is always a huge setback in the prosecution of internet scammers. He also shared that Nigerian lawyers would rather dissuade victims from pursuing such cases and urge them to make a civil suit because that is the only kind that works in the courts.

Shifting to how the deplorable situation may be improved, Mr Uko stated that citizens in the country must have a precise sense of their rights. 

He emphasised that the policies guiding user conduct on social media platforms must be revised. He also maintained that the same laws and ethics that govern people’s conduct in the real world should be assimilated into cyberspace.

Mr Uko highlighted the necessity of journalists to elevate and spotlight issues such as internet scams. He stated that there should be increased advocacy because most Nigerian laws have almost become non-existent due to their lack of implementation. According to him, Nigerians are ignorant of such laws because they are still struggling with coping with the basic amenities of life.

Thereafter, Ms Alairbe inquired from DUBAWA’s Elizabeth Ogunbamowo about what people can do to avoid being scammed online. The fact-checker advised that it is important for people to be alert online and be conscious that predators are lurking in the internet space. 

“Do not let your guard down,” she warned. 

She further highlighted certain practices that people can adopt to make their identities online secure. She pointed out the two-step verification, which users should use to avoid being hoodwinked by internet fraudsters.

Ms Ogunbamowo, however, acknowledged that people cannot be too careful and that anybody can fall prey to internet scams, hence, the need to be safety-conscious. 

She also highlighted some other non-technical approaches people can adopt in order not to be taken advantage of illicitly. She said whenever a strange user contacts them online, they should scrutinise the person’s profile. 

“When was the account created? Does he post regularly? What kind of contributions does the person make (on social media)?” She outlined. 

The fact-checker further advised that people need to check if the contact in question is someone that they already have a relationship with. They should also note if the person deliberately omitted a vital chunk of their details on the internet.

More importantly, the fact-checker stressed that people need to question the person’s motive to reach out to him or her. 

Ms Ogunbamowo also advised the audience to use the Google search feature on the internet and the “search” option on social media platforms to identify the background of the individual contacting them.

When the moderator called on Dr Agbaraolorunpo for the medical symptoms associated with an ailing heart, he immediately distinguished the difference between symptoms and signs.

He confirmed that symptoms are the underlying features that are visible when an individual is suffering from a disease. Signs are the medical conditions that the doctor detects from the patient suffering from a disease. Aside from that, he mentioned that the signs associated with a patient who has a heart problem include “frequently fainting attack, swollen lower limbs, swollen face, and difficulty in breathing.”

Dr Agbaraolorunpo also noted that doctors should be the ones who will do the diagnosis and not the patient. He advised his audience that in order not to be tricked into doing charity for a rather fraudulent cause in the name of health challenges, people need to consult medical practitioners for the authentication of such a narrative. 

On what medical institutions can do to ensure that their documents are not being used to defraud people on the internet, Dr Agbaraolorunpo said that institutions need to take advantage of the present opulence of technological advancement. He also suggested the need for central coordination of doctors to ensure that the details of every certified doctor are securely stored and that individuals can consult doctors for essential inquiries. 

He also mentioned that when medical assistance comes up on social media, it is best to request a physical meeting for uncompromised authentication. 

Returning to the lawyer, the moderator asked what legal measures could be adopted to improve the situation. The legal practitioner identified that the rather dormant  Cybercrime Act 2015 be reformed. 

Mr Uko also advocated that judges should cast away their personal biases, moral and religious, and enforce the laws to the letter. He further noted that laws relating to cybercrime should not be made independently in the absence of professionals concerned. He also advised that people should do background checks on contacts they come across on social media. He also called for capacity building to be strengthened for staff. 

During the session, Ms Bakare applauded Elsa (the victim in her investigation) for defying all odds and telling her story. Ms Bakare believes that unearthing such a real-life story will erase the culture of silence usually exhibited by victims of internet scams, thereby spotlighting such crimes.

Closing the session, Ms Alaribe admonished public law enforcement institutions to prove themselves efficient by committing themselves to safeguarding the public space. 

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