The digital shift towards online work and leisure has changed how we live, bringing vast benefits to our lives – but it also comes with unprecedented dangers.
Cybercrime is a growing problem that’s becoming more complex, sophisticated, and dangerous. To avoid detection, criminals are using advanced methods to commit fraud, commonly targeting countries with poor digital infrastructure.
With many of these nations being in Africa, gangs of criminals have been expanding across the continent, with experts fearing that people all over the world could be the next target.
The most common type of scams
In a recent report, the international security organization Interpol listed banking and credit card fraud as the most serious cyber threat coming out of Africa.
During the pandemic, online banking platforms received more than twice as many attacks as during a similar time period in the previous year.
The fear is that current security measures aren’t enough to stop them. Bank protocols, including multi-step verification and the Know Your Customer (KYC) procedures used in online casinos, provide a certain level of protection, but sophisticated criminal methods are overcoming these in many cases.
The breadth of the crime extends even beyond banking, however. Organized crime gangs are also targeting wealthy individuals who often willingly hand over cash under false pretenses.
A major Interpol operation this year unearthed more than 70 criminals working for the notorious Black Axe gang who are spread over several African countries, as well as nations in Europe, the Middle East, south-east Asia, and the US.
Around $1m in bank funds, tens of thousands of dollars in cash, and 12,000 SIM cards were seized during the raid, underlining just how successful the criminal activities have been.
Why is the surge happening
The Black Axe gang isn’t new. It began as a group of students in Benin City way back in the 1970s but has since grown into a global network that puts fraud at the center of its agenda.
The gang has upscaled its activity over the last few years for two reasons: increased expertise that it has built over decades and the return of air travel following lockdowns that have allowed members to travel between crime activity hubs, including Dubai and Nigeria.
One chief fraudster was a Nigerian national who enjoyed a lavish lifestyle in the UAE, living off his stolen millions. He was, however, sentenced to 11 years in federal prison and ordered to pay $1.7 million in costs in 2022.
Added to sophisticated criminal methods is the fact that people spend more of their lives online these days, making them more vulnerable to online attacks. Someone who meets people via internet forums, or buys online goods, is at higher risk of one of these attacks via faulty payment methods or simply a charming fraudster.
There’s also the possibility that the global cost-of-living crisis is motivating criminals. Not only are much more desperate to earn cash, but they also prey on victims desperate to earn money that is thus more likely to sign up to elaborate ‘money-making’ schemes.
How it could impact the rest of the world
While the likes of the Black Axe gang may have originated in Africa, cybercrime gangs are still multinational operations whose activities are allowed to continue in countries around the world.
This could have a knock-on effect on the countries that host them. Many cybercriminals also have links to local gangsters around the world, so this online activity is also funding some of these via lucrative links.
It also leads to an influx of black-market cash into a local economy, which has the potential to affect businesses and even the value of the currency in extreme cases.
Surges in cybercrime activity also mean it’s more likely that individuals around the world are more likely to be targeted, with protection software struggling to keep up.
Like most crime surges, the fightback from law enforcement also increases in tempo.
Tech advances also help the authorities, who can use special tracking methods to help find gangs and seize their resources. It also allows for improved coordination and communication between investigators.
With more than $120 million seized on the African continent this year, the hope is that resistance is just as strong as ever. After all, every dollar that is rescued from cybercriminals is a dollar that won’t go into other forms of crime, such as sex work and arms buying.
This is the challenge that governments are facing as we stand on the brink of a new internet era.