With 200 million inhabitants, 89 million with internet access, and 167 million daily mobile phone users, Nigeria presents itself as fertile ground for financial crimes and online scams. Among these offenders, the Yahoo Boys stand out—youths between 22 and 29 years old who have earned an infamous reputation for their cunning in digital crimes. Most of them are university students who engage in scams using fake profiles on social media, creating fictional romantic relationships to gain the trust of their victims in search of wealth, exploiting innocents seeking love or falling into clever financial traps.
The name “Yahoo Boys” comes from Yahoo email accounts, which offer them a free platform to carry out their schemes. These schemes are mainly orchestrated in Nigeria and have victims across the entire continent.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, during Valentine’s Day in February 2022, approximately 70,000 people fell victim to these scams, resulting in estimated monetary losses of 1.3 billion dollars. This number surpasses all monetary losses suffered from fraud over the past five years in the African country.
To maintain the ostentatious display of wealth on their social media, some members even venture into terrible acts of ritual murder. In 2011, investigators discovered that these cybercriminals use voodoo and charms to enchant potential victims and compel them to comply with their demands. The use of human body parts in these rituals takes deception and manipulation to a whole new level. Researchers found that using items like nails, rings, corpses, making incisions on their bodies, sleeping in cemeteries, and reciting incantations with their fingers are common practices. An informant confessed: “Voodoo exists. I used it, but I stopped because I feared the consequences. With voodoo’s help, money comes faster. I have friends who still use it. They can collect money two or three times a week, and that helps. I used a ring when I did my thing. We have incisions. I have a friend who uses a pumpkin filled with a black substance, hides it in his room, and recites incantations.”
Furthermore, they describe how they lured their victims to bars, got them drunk, and then took them to isolated areas to murder them and sell their organs to sorcerers who mix them with medicinal herbs and prepare a mixture for a money ritual that supposedly brings them success in their activities.
It is an open secret that the lifestyle of the Yahoo Boys comes at a cost, but what many people do not know is that it is not just about money. The rituals and voodoo used to obtain power and success often have dangerous consequences for both the “Yahoo boys” and their victims. Many of them end up experiencing serious health problems such as mental and sleep disorders. Besides the physical and mental harm caused by their actions, their criminal activities also have a significant impact on the Nigerian economy. According to a 2018 report by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the country loses approximately 3.5 billion dollars annually due to cybercrime, with most of the losses attributed to the activities of Yahoo boys.
Testimony from a former Yahoo Boy
In an interview for the Click Here podcast, we spoke with a retired Yahoo Boy who requested to be referred to as “Tommy” due to his involvement in such activities. Tommy shared how he operated in this world of deceit and romance scams, giving us an inside look into the lives of these digital criminals.
Tommy! We already know how it works from the victims’ point of view, but from your perspective, how does it work?
There are people we refer to as “providers,” usually residing in Kenya, and these men are the money handlers. Their job is generally related to payments; they act as intermediaries. When I ask a client to pay me, these intermediaries are the ones who receive the money, it goes into their account, and they give me a percentage.
But, Tommy, did these people pay you correctly?
Most of the time, we have to beg before receiving our money, especially when it’s a large sum. Many of them often disappear with our money, it’s sad!
How did you come across these providers you worked for?
It was during my time in university, actually. A friend introduced me to them and told me they would help me with school fees easily, and food would not be a problem. My friend provided me with everything I needed, like the Twitter account I would use, the languages and formats I would need, including images.
Did your college friend give you something called a “romance scam kit”?
Yes, he did. It was in the form of a note that I could copy and paste to the people I would be communicating with.
So, what group of people do you focus on, and how do you select your victims?
I usually focus on the working class, especially single mothers. They are easily victimized and fall easily into the trap under the pretext of seeking help. The providers also help me identify those who will be our victims.
Once you identify your victims, what stories do you make up?
Usually, I just look for a picture of an older man, preferably white and elderly, and create some interesting story. During our conversation, when they ask where I work, I tell them I’m an engineer or that I work for a construction company, and that I have a business somewhere, maybe in California or Texas. I tell them I will help them with $2,000, but they must pay $15 or $20 to receive the money.
So, how long does it take you to send emails and text messages to someone before they send you money?
If the response to me is quick, I will probably ask them to send the money within an hour, but if they are not willing to pay, I simply move on and look for another victim.
You mean you don’t waste time with some of the people you come across?
Have you ever called your victims, or do you just send emails and text messages?
No, I don’t call any of my victims or the people I am about to scam because if I call them, they will definitely realize that I am impersonating someone and that I am from Africa. In case they asked for a phone or video call, I act as if I am angry with them for doubting me and not believing the truth. Most of them plead.
Tommy, you said being in college was like an additional job, right?
Yes, because at that time, when I was involved in scams, I didn’t have time for another job. I usually scammed during noon or in the middle of the night. If I scammed at night, it was difficult for me to attend classes the next morning.
Were you the only one scamming people, or were you with your companions in a room?
Yes, I did it alone, but in some situations, I asked for a friend’s help in the scamming process because they knew more about it than I did. They sent me many formats that I would need to go after the victims I would be conversing with; I just copied and pasted them into the messages and sent them.
Are you very sure that some of your victims want to meet you?
Yes, of course. There was one particular client; when we were talking, they never knew I was a scammer. They told me they wanted to marry me, but I found it difficult to accept because I know I am a scammer, so I had to let it go.
So, Tommy, have you ever felt bad and considered this as a job?
Of course, most of the time, I feel bad. There was one particular time I encountered a woman online. I told her to send me $25 so that I could send her some money and help her. She told me she only had $15, but I still insisted she send it. At that moment, she realized that I wouldn’t help her and started crying. I can say it was the worst day of my life in terms of scams.
So, Tommy, you said you regret doing this job. Why did you decide to stop?
Actually, my brother told me to stop and that what I was doing was wrong. Karma is real, and I don’t want it to affect me. I want to step away from hurting people, and I also want to live a good life, so I decided to stop.
So, Tommy, now that you have stopped scamming, how is your life?
Here in Nigeria, I am safe, although I am currently living with a friend who is also involved in scams. I don’t have my own place, but I hope to get my own place. I graduated from college about a year ago and am looking for work. It is quite challenging to get a job in Nigeria, especially if you don’t have connections. That’s why most young people have embraced scams as a career.
Writen by Dadzie Ebenzer, desde Kaduna, Nigeria and Lucas Beron Argentina.
Translated by: Silvina Canon
Links and Sources:
- Video about Yahoo Boys.
- The international market that looks at Nigeria. Read article.
- Countries with the highest number of internet users. Statistics.
- The African country that lifted the currency exchange control. News.
- The audacity of the Yahoo Boys. Report.
- Charms of the Yahoo Boys. https://www.tiktok.com/discover/money-ritual-yahoo-boys?lang=es