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Violence, social engineering and success: how do Nigerians use rites and “magic” for online fraud

In search of a rich and successful life, young and educated people in the country are turning to cyber-spiritualism.

On October 19, 2018, in the Nigerian city of Effurun , one policeman died and another was seriously injured. The driver lost control while chasing a member of the Yahoo boy (Yahoo boy) and crashed while the attacker escaped. According to eyewitnesses, he drove an expensive brand car – a frequent occurrence for those involved in cybercrime in Nigeria.

Every year, this area attracts young and talented graduates of technical universities, who, in an attempt to get out of poverty, are turning to online fraud. However, it is unusual that the attackers combine spiritualism with their activities. They carry out rituals by incising skin on the body, kidnap people, or in special cases go to kill, believing that magic will help make more money on the victims.

Where superstition meets technology

In August 2018, a 29-year-old resident of the Nigerian city of Lagos and the alleged Taiwo Akinola arranged with his mother Alice to meet at home for an important conversation. A little later, the young man asked his nephew to buy a handkerchief and a pack of cigarettes at the store, and he went home. As they say in the case file, waiting for the mother, he attacked her and hit her on the head with a board with nails.

After indefinite actions with the body of a woman who had lost consciousness, the attacker left her at home in a pool of blood and left. Soon, Akinol’s nephew returned from the store, saw a relative and called the police, after which the wounded man was sent to intensive care unit in serious condition, and the assailant was detained. During the interrogation, Akinola stated that he was asked to kill his mother in order to “get more money” from the Internet victim. In his apartment they found fragments of a human skull, a kind of dark-colored mixture, as well as a bottle of oil and a “Send back” label.

Taiwo Akinola holds a vase with some substance. Photo of Lagos State Police
Taiwo Akinola holds a vase with some substance. Photo of Lagos State Police

The average age of cybercriminals in Nigeria ranges from 22 to 29 years: they are mostly educated and technically savvy people who know the intricacies of the Internet. More than 70% come from poor families. Often, their coding skills are inferior to those of European or American attackers, so they do not rely on creating their own viruses, only sometimes using phishing. Their main method of fraud is social engineering .

Rubbing the victim into trust, attackers find out the details of her bank cards or extort money. The overwhelming number of goals they find on dating sites, where, posing as another person, they get acquainted with the victim and learn about her financial situation. If the source is white, then the attacker also pretends to be a white person and sends a photo as proof. This is usually a photo of a random person found on Facebook.

When the victim wants to talk on the phone, thinking that he is talking to a girl, the attacker asks his friends to play along. Often, unknown persons choose a target among the inhabitants of Western countries, especially wealthy women or men of age.

I always impersonate a solid man who is looking for a wife. Sometimes I tell how my former spouse betrayed me, taking away property and children. All this is served in a friendly sauce and is supported by photographs to convince the interlocutor.

Member of the Yakuboev community

Sometimes the victim is sent expensive gifts to convince her of the serious intentions of the interlocutor, or get acquainted with the “family” by phone. To do this, the attacker uses the program to change the voice, posing as an elderly woman (mother), or asks to play an accomplice. Further, the unknown convinces the victim that he had gone to another country, using the phone code substitution system.

While abroad, the attacker says that his relative is sick and asks to borrow a certain amount, which varies between $ 1,000. After receiving it, he comes up with new reasons to get more money until the moment when the victim does not have them. This is not the only strategy, and more experienced attackers “prepare” the victim for several months before asking for a loan.

At the beginning of 2018, Adam Meyers, vice president of the American cyber security company CrowdStrike , admitted that the Yahuboi have influence in their homeland, and their internal policies resemble the classic mafia.

When you join an organization [yahuboev], you get a new name. They have their own music and even their own language. Social networks are full of photos where they flaunt their stuff. The whole idea is based on the question, why invest thousands of dollars to create your own virus, if you can just convince a random person to do something stupid?

Adam Meyers
Vice President of the American Cyber ​​Security Company CrowdStrike

Little is known about the arrests of the Yakuboevs – sometimes they are involved in major operations with foreign hackers, including American ones, and are targeted by the FBI. In August 2018, this ended with the arrest of 29 Nigerian Yakuboevs.

Young Nigerians seeking success

The name “Yahuboi” (Yahoo boys) refers to the time when the first Nigerian Internet attackers sent phishing emails through the e-mail search engine of the same name. Despite the commonplace, members of the movement gladly accepted this name. In 2009, one of the most famous rap artists in Nigeria, Olu Maintain (Olu Maintain), released the song “Yahooze”, the video for which gained more than three million views.

In the video, the performer in expensive clothes scatters dollar bills, drives expensive cars and drinks with friends in nightclubs.

Although the direct connection of Mainten with the Yakuboi has not been established, Nigerians easily recognize them by their similar manners. They often openly brag about their earnings, speak loudly on the streets, freely behave, drive expensive and noteworthy cars that they often change to new ones. They are the main guests of night clubs and active clients of street prostitutes. Often, passers-by meet on the way a group of young yakuboevs who speak their own slang. For example, in their speech common phrase «Maga don pay» – «Fool paid.”

Partly it was the outrageousness characteristic of the yabuboi that led to the arrest of a high school student Adam. In August 2017, he bought a private house and shop, after which he told the good news to his father. When asked where he got the money from, the son answered that the bank mistakenly sends him several million in local currency. Suspecting a deception, a relative Adamu reported a possible act of fraud to the Nigerian Commission for Economic and Financial Crimes. The investigation revealed that the teenager was tied up with Yakhuboi and stole savings from the farmer’s bank account.

The police in the house of Adam (center) with his father. Photo of the Commission on Economic and Financial Crimes
The police in the house of Adam (center) with his father. Photo of the Commission on Economic and Financial Crimes

Others do not allow such errors. One of the main social values ​​of Nigerians remains the family and its honor, and the less a person has the opportunity to shame her, hiding behind a made-up online name, the better. A member of the criminal community says: “I have problems, why I hide the truth [about my activity] from my parents. They do not need to know, because they are very strict. If they find out, they will give me the police without the right to bail. I return home without a car. I have three luxury cars, but I park them with friends. ”

Desktop yauboya. ZAM magazine photo

As stated in the study of the University of Ibadan, along with the traditions of the family and home, especially in distant and undeveloped regions, many Nigerians believe in the sanctity of magical rites. Despite the development of technology and science, the fear of magic affects both the elderly and young people in the country.

Spiritualism penetrates all kinds of activities: local businessmen believe that making special soap magically increases sales, and soldiers believe that ceremonies will protect them from enemy bullets or a machete strike. These same superstitions successfully rooted in the local Internet, penetrating into the field of cybercrime and entrenched in the strategy of the Yakuboi.

Occultism as a way to fight and enrich

In Nigeria, yauboboi called almost all intruders who work on the Internet. But those who use the occult for fraud are known as “Yahuboi plus” (Yahoo plus). They are perceived as a kind of Internet shamans who control certain forces to deceive “white people”. This opinion is not accidental – the attackers steal only from foreigners or people from rich regions of Nigeria, who, because of prosperity, are equated to “white”.

On the topic of the use of the occult among Nigerian Internet intruders, several scientific studies were conducted, the last in 2013. They are built on the testimony of former and active yakuboev, as well as on the observations of sociologists who drew confidence in the community. On the basis of the data, examples of “cyber-rituals” became known, however, their popularity among intruders could not be established. Most likely, only a small part of Yakuboi resorts to the methods of occultism, since magic plays a sacred role in the traditions of Nigeria.

Often, for a successful “ritual” that must force the victim to immediately give all the money, the authors need only the real name of the goal. However, some participants resort to additional methods: incise the hand with which they hold the computer mouse, and put their feet on the turtle, sitting at the computer. The animal allegedly provides spiritual assistance.

Another ritual is to use the woman as a guide between the shaman and the victim. The attackers agree with the assistant that she will lose weight until the goal returns all its money. Among yakuboev, it is believed that the success of the ceremony is built on how much the girl will lose weight and how much pain she will experience in the process. About cases of death in such situations is not known, because in critical cases the assistant refuses to participate.

Often, the “conductor” is in a relationship with the “shaman” or becomes his girlfriend after he receives money from the victim.

Many yahaboi consider magic as the main source of profit. Allegedly, without rituals, community members earn only for food, clothing and a smartphone, while rituals give a chance to make millions. This is what Taivo Akinola wanted when he tried to kill his mother and use her blood for the ritual.

One of the most dangerous rituals is considered to be the one where you have to rub the intimate places of a girl with oil or other means, and then have sex with her. These actions allegedly “pump out” the energy of the girl, but as a result she can get sick or be cursed, which will not allow her to succeed until the end of her life. Often these procedures are used prostitutes as, believe yahuboi, their lives are not as valuable.

In a conversation with the Nigerian Monitor, the 26-year-old Yauby told me that he resorted to spiritualism when he ran out of money. With the help of rituals, he allegedly “fell in love” with the Internet victim and forced him to give all the money.

Sometimes yakhoboi carry computers or laptops to local temples in order to gain additional energy for operations.

In sociological studies it is mentioned that some Yahuboi, in exceptional cases, spend the night in cemeteries for certain rituals. There are cases when online attackers used human fingernails or rings removed from corpses for rituals.

Yahuboi does not consider Internet fraud a crime, and some see it as a social justice to Western countries for having oppressed Nigeria in the past. In the perception of intruders, the cruelty of foreigners is large enough to use magic against them. The main thing that the victim was rich.

Despite this position, there is a fear of spiritualism among yakuboevs. Some fear that excessive use of magic can harm them or their loved ones, while others reject methods out of respect for traditions. It is also possible that some people simply do not believe in spiritualism, using standard methods of social engineering, but do not express their opinions because of fears of condemnation.

This whole topic with voodoo magic really exists, I used it, but stopped because of the fear of consequences. With the help of voodoo, money comes faster. I have friends who still use magic, they earn two or three times more per week. [In the ritual] I used the ring, we make cuts. I have a friend who uses a hookah filled with a black substance. He hides him in his room and recites spells.

former yahaboy, a key informant for researchers at the Nigerian University Obafemi Awolowo
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