For a while now, unproven allegations of fraud against Peter Okoye, the Nigerian music star, have remained unabated. On several occasions, some Nigerians took to social media to allege the musician defrauded them via his Zoom lottery scheme known as ZoomUpYourLife. Despite numerous rebuttals by the singer that those behind such were impersonators and should be avoided, many Nigerians continue to fall prey to such scammers – who deploy sophisticated measures that appear too natural to raise suspicion. In this report, DUBAWA’s Elizabeth Ogunbamowo exposes the strategies and activities of such fraudsters.
Peter Okoye’s social media handles showed that he runs a lottery platform known as Zoom Up Your Life. As stated on the Instagram account, those interested in playing the game are requested to subscribe by purchasing tickets on the website and after that watch a live draw where the musician usually announces the winners. The announcement is followed by a video call to the winners to congratulate them.
The exercise continued for months, but in July 2022, the musician announced he had stepped down from anchoring the call sessions with selected winners, citing frequent cases of impersonation. At the time, Mr Okoye also announced that his manager would continue with the sessions.
Prior to that, the singer, better known as Mr P, informed his followers on social media that he had stopped doing video calls with winners while he exposed the tactics of the fraudsters who operate different Facebook pages that are impersonating him, as seen here, here and here.
He also shared the legal documents of those caught and charged to court for impersonating him. Not done, the musician warned his millions of followers on social media of existing pages still in impersonation.
Tears, regrets…victims recount harrowing experiences with Okoye’s impersonators
Some victims of the singer’s impersonators, who spoke to DUBAWA, explained how they lost thousands of naira due to the visual evidence – which often makes them believe they are actually communicating with the singer.
In most cases, the victims said they were a bit sceptical about the authenticity of the game but after a supposed WhatsApp video call with the musician – wherein the impersonators allayed their fears – they ended up getting scammed.
The victims, who spoke to DUBAWA, noted that they were sure the musician himself scammed them as he supposedly communicated with them.
One of the victims, Jude Ndu, who works as a mason to generate his school fees, insisted that the call was not manipulated, citing the musician’s reaction to his actions in real-time.
“I’m very sure of what I’m saying. He called me on a video call and was having a good conversation based on the programme. I was crying, and he was telling me not to cry, so you can’t tell me that it’s not P-square (Peter Okoye). I’m talking about video calls, we had a lot of voice calls, but this was a video call. Don’t allow people to tell you it’s not Peter Okoye; it’s him,” he said.
Ndu said he paid N680,000 to the scammers because he wanted more money to pay off his University Tuition, but as it stands, his deposit and expected winnings have gone down the drain, and he has to postpone his much sought-after desire for higher education till a later time due to the experience.
“On the 28th of February, I was scrolling through social media, and I came across the platform Zoom Lifestyle, so I decided to apply. I applied, and he called me on a video call. I saw his face; it was not manipulated. We were having a conversation, so it was not manipulated. He asked me how many tickets I wanted to purchase, and I told him I’d purchase one for N10,000; I’m just a student. After payment, he said I won N250,000. I was glad. Afterwards, he sent me a voice note that I should make sure I make good use of the money and not squander it. I was very grateful to him.”
Ndu added that ‘Mr Okoye’ asked him to pay an extra N22,500 fee. When the victim inquired about the fee, the impersonator told him to obey first. Ndu said he obeyed because of the celebrity’s status and believed he could never be cheated by Mr Okoye.
“After that, he told me a lady would call me and that when she calls, I should follow her instructions. She called and demanded N50,000, and the winnings had been upgraded to N500,000. I didn’t believe her, so I called Peter Okoye on video call again and told him that I didn’t understand what was happening, but he said I should obey the woman; that video call kept boosting my confidence. I sent up to N250,000 in a day. The network was bad, so I did it through a POS machine. The following day, I called him to send me my money, and he said he had to reach out to someone first. He later called me on a video call, I was crying, and he said I was a lucky person. I have won over N1 million.”
The victim added that he might have been hypnotized by the fraudsters as he was just obeying their commands.
“I can’t explain what came over me. Even the POS operator asked me if I was in the right frame of mind. I said I’m very sure.”
He said the fraudsters were able to successfully scam him of the amount in bits after several video and voice WhatsApp calls and voice notes in between.
Another victim, who lost N350,000 to the impersonators, told DUBAWA that the musician (impersonated by a fraudster) called her via video call several times, which strengthened her belief in the authenticity of the scheme.
She said she had sent money and did not receive anything in return, even though the ‘celebrity’ – referring to Mr Okoye – called her on video call promising she would get her winnings. She noted that she started crying, and he promised to release the money to her after she paid N51,000 three times. She believed because of his status as a celebrity but was also scammed.
Victim’s chat with fraudsters
Is Mr Okoye actually behind the voice and video calls?
Critical analysis of the voice notes some of the victims shared with DUBAWA showed glaring discrepancies in the voice of the celebrity and that of the alleged caller, who, after successfully swindling victims of their money, goes ahead to place a curse on himself and one-half of P-square, if he was trying to scam victims.
Can WhatsApp video calls be manipulated?
DUBAWA discovered some desktop software that can be used to manipulate video calls; prominent among them is ManyCam – an ‘easy-to-use virtual camera and live-streaming software that helps you deliver professional live videos on streaming platforms, video conferencing apps, and remote learning tools.’
When installed on a laptop computer, the app allows users to upload a pre-recorded video, after which the user sets the video to fit the screen. The computer camera is subsequently substituted with the ManyCam virtual camera, showing the pre-recorded video on the receiver’s screen.
Certain settings on the software allow users to eliminate the original video’s audio. Thus, the user can speak directly to the receivers reacting to their every action as of the time the call was made.
For instance, several victims claimed during the call with Mr Okoye (who was impersonated), they started crying, and he (the singer’s impersonator) asked why they were crying — which strengthened their belief in the authenticity of the call.
DUBAWA searched Facebook and discovered countless pages created to play the Zoom lifestyle. A common trend with the page names is “Zoom”, “lifestyle” “Giveaway” “Mr P” “PSquare” and “Mr Okoye” among others. They all have the image of the musician as their profile picture and usually identify as a musician’s brand page. Most pages claiming affiliation with Mr Okoye encourage users to pay a certain amount to win a greater amount.
As stated in the messages, the higher an individual pays for a ticket, the more chances of winning a huge amount of money. The central message in the Facebook posts is that no one loses in the game as the celebrity (scammers posing as Mr Okoye) uses the platform to give back to his fans.
As common with every scam, there are testimonials littered all over the pages of people who claimed they had won some money in the past and got paid.
Also, there is usually a link to a WhatsApp number attached to the bottom of the message encouraging winners to play and receive a video call from the popular musician. Most of the pages are usually open pages on Facebook, making it easy for users to access them, though some closed Facebook groups are involved in the scam.
Armed with the above information as well as the experiences of the victims and determined to expose the scammers’ mode of operation, I used pseudo names – Titilayo Oladunjoye and Titilayo Adedunmoye respectively — and created a new WhatsApp account for interacting with the scammers.
Using the created WhatsApp account, I followed the advertised links on several of the pages and spoke to the ‘celebrity’ (the scammers posing as Mr Okoye) on numerous occasions.
I observed a pattern in the chats with the scammers. After dropping a WhatsApp message to indicate interest in the scheme, the handler sends a list of packages readily available to the ‘player’ with different tags such as ‘student’, ‘diamond’, and ‘gold’ among others which have different rates.
Subsequently, the handlers asked me to submit my personal details alongside bank account details to aid in the quick payment of my winnings immediately after the draw.
The screenshot above is the pattern in the messages by the impersonators who consistently assured me that no one loses in the game, a tactic they use to deceive unsuspecting players.
I immediately informed them that my bank account was restricted, hence the need to use another person’s account, which they accepted. However, this was a means to get the bank account details to ascertain whether the name is Mr Okoye’s.
Afterwards, the account operators called me with the face of Mr Okoye to assure me that I was dealing directly with him. A video of my encounter with Mr Okoye’s impersonators can be found here. In most cases, the voice and mouth movements do not tally and the calls do not exceed 30 seconds, probably so I won’t detect the scam.
Sometimes, the caller – impersonator – will mute his call, which appears on the screen, to adjust the audio setting to theirs rather than the celebrity’s voice (Mr Okoye). This occurred at least twice during my encounter with the impersonators.
During the conversations, Mr Okoye’s impersonators (obviously operating different Facebook accounts) called me using the same video three different times via three different WhatsApp accounts.
Also, in one of the video calls, the ‘celebrity’ – the supposed Mr Okoye – was positioned downwards.
The impersonators have mastered a major line: “Good afternoon, Titilayo Oladunjoye from Ogun State, how are you doing today? Relax your mind (sic), you’re dealing with me directly…You have nothing to be worried about…Let me call the next person.”
The call lasts between 20 seconds to one minute, after which the call ends abruptly. I suspect this encounter gives unsuspecting victims a glint of hope that their story will change for good.
DUBAWA was able to identify this video as one of the common clips manipulated to scam people during this investigation.
The journalist also noticed many unexplained discrepancies in the bank account names provided by the impersonators. Surprisingly, one of them had the exact name of the musician, ‘Peter Okoye’ registered with Guaranty Trust Bank, ‘0762974909’
Other accounts provided for payment included Esther Sylvester 1718406713, Access Bank; Peter PSquare 9167298763 Palmpay; Peter Ekuoye, 2736898131, Paga Bank; Samuel Paul, 9037263811, Palmpay; Okoyes Okoye Peter, 9064598785, Palmpay; Pawa (Charity Uwakwe), 9985154483, Providus Bank and David Abraham, 9550452794, Palmpay.
DUBAWA reached out to some of the banks in which the operators are registered to identify suspicious activities on the account numbers. However, 48 hours after the enquiry, the mail had yet to be replied to.
Facebook pages identified
DUBAWA observed that some of the Facebook pages had been recently created with the deliberate intention of defrauding people. Some of the pages have as few as five followers. The operators run a Facebook advert, reaching thousands of people with the previous video of Okoye speaking to winners of the lottery scheme.
They also share winnings from the current Zoom lifestyle game gleaned from Mr Okoye’s original social media pages to swindle unsuspecting users.
Also, testimonials litter the comment section to make others believe the scheme is real. The journalist also discovered that some private Facebook pages were specifically created to this effect.
While the Facebook pages are numerous, the journalist was able to identify the following pages: Zoom Lifestyle Giveaway By Mr Peter Okoye, Zoom Lottery Mr P, Zoom Lottery Giveaway, Zoom Lottery giveaway, Mr P Zoom Lifestyle Giveaway, Zoom lifestyle ticket, Mr p Zoom lifestyle giveaway, zoomlifestyle lottery giveaway, Zoom lifestyle’s giveaway, Zoom lottery giveaway, Gotv, Peter okoye Zoom giveaway, Peter okoye zoom giveaway.
One of them, with over 7,000 members, known as Mr P Zoom Giveaway Lifestyle, also deploys the same tactic, encouraging followers to pay a small amount in exchange for a higher amount.
Truecaller: Who are the actors behind the scam?
DUBAWA further made use of Truecaller, an app that helps users in the identification of callers.
I inputted some of the numbers that called the victims and me on the True Caller app, and some of the names provided included: Momin, Ope Malas, Kawu Umar Auta, Mr P, Mr P Zoom, P, Amir K Mata, Mr P Okoye, Mr P Okoyi, Xpark Nigeria.
From my observation, the names might not be the true identity of the person operating the phone numbers.
Mr Okoye’s team reacts
When DUBAWA contacted Mr Okoye’s team via a telephone line attached to his social media handles, a member of the team said the musician had called out the impersonators on several occasions.
The team member, who refused to be identified, said: “He (Mr Okoye) has debunked that several times and told his followers on all his social media handles that he has stopped calling people and he keeps warning people, yet some keep falling for this no matter how many times he has warned people.”
Many victims, who spoke to DUBAWA, called for Facebook to take down the pages impersonating Mr Okoye while urging security operatives to ensure they are brought to book.