President Olusegun Obasanjo last week warned persons currently involved in any form of Advance Fee Fraud (a.k.a. 419), cyber and computer crimes to have a rethink. The president gave the warning while inaugurating a 15-member presidential committee on 419 activities on the cyber space.

Obasanjo stated that "if nothing else, we must learn from the experiences of other societies where the internet is being used by terrorists, bank robbers, fraudsters and for pornography."

The committee on 419 has as its chairman, the National Security Adviser, Lt. Gen. Aliyu Mohammed Gusau (rtd); the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Chief Akinlolu Olujimi (SAN); Minister of Science and Technology, Professor Turner Isoun; Inspector-General of Police, Tafa Balogun; and the Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of the Economic and Finance Crimes Commission, Nuhu Ribabu.

In the same week an Ikeja High Court Judge, Justice Morenike Obadina, granted an application for Stay of Proceedings in the Advance Fee Fraud case involving Chief Alumile Adedeji (a.k.a Ade Bendel), the 1st accused, and Mr. Shina Olowoake, the 2nd accused; pending the determination of the appeal filed by the defense counsel at the Court of Appeal. Ade Bendel and Olowoake are arraigned before the court on a six- count charge, for allegedly swindling a Nigerian for the sum of N28million with a promise to increase the money to the tune of US$2,700,000, an offence in contravention of Sections 8 (a) and 1 (3) of the Advance Fee Fraud and other Related Offences Act 13 of 1995, as amended by Decree 62 of 1999.

Outside Nigeria various individuals have set out to humiliate the scammers. Mike, a 41-year-old computer engineer from Manchester, runs the scam- baiting site, which started two months ago. ‘Almost always the scammer will think you are a real victim and try their best to extract money. It started because I used to get a few emails, and although I knew it was a scam I never knew how it worked. I did some research, found out about scam baiting and decided to have a go. It’s now almost a full-time hobby for me.’ Taking a leaf out of the 419 gangs’ book, most of the scam baiters keep their true identities secret. There have been at least 25 murders linked to the 419 gangs. Last February a retired Czech doctor who had lost more than œ400,000 stormed into the Nigerian Embassy in Prague and shot dead the leading consul.

A scam-baiting site run by ‘Alexander Kerensky’ focuses its efforts on 419 gangs based in Amsterdam. Adopting the persona ‘Lillith Cova’, an attractive but desperately lonely 27-year-old advertising executive from London, Kerensky exchanged emails with a man by the name of James for more than a month. During this time he received authentic-looking documents, including a power of attorney, entitling him to a 20 per cent share of $18 million.

‘The site started because I managed to lure James in front of an Amsterdam webcam and I wanted people to know what these scammers look like. I don’t have anything against Nigerians. These people are, quite simply, outright criminals.’