Friday, August 28, 2009

No way to bridge the digital divide: Internet fraud crippling Ghana

One of the annoyances of living in West Africa is the fact that I can’t use my credit card. Now to be fair, this is mostly a cash economy and I really don’t purchase many things that require a credit card, but if and when I need it, I cannot use it.

Fraud is the single reason that comes in many forms. Fraud is so rampant in this area of the world, that in February this year, it was announced that the majority of U.S. and Canadian retailers had blocked any Internet orders originating from Ghana and Nigeria.

Back in my early days in Ghana, 1997 – 2003, I was a lowly volunteer with no credit card to use. My first experience with fraud was during my parents’ epic journey across the waters, to visit me in my new ‘homeland’. My dad was uneasy about just about everything, and just to exacerbate the problem, he got called to the bar at the hotel – where we were all lounging around the pool (me in heaven at the decadence!) – and on the other end of the phone was Visa International. They explained that his card had been used in a global whirlwind of purchases, ever since he used the card at the hotel and a restaurant two days earlier.

All these years later, in the modern age of online bookings, I’ve had to recently contact my offshore bank and go through the highly laborious process of changing the billing address from Ghana to Canada.

JW and I travel a lot for work and as many holidays as possible, and it has become impossible to book car rentals, hotels or air tickets.

We tried to book online with Emirates and South African Airways in the past month and both times their Ghana website states that due to excess fraud, tickets must be paid for in person within 48 hours of booking online. This totally defeats the purpose of booking online! Gone is the convenience of not having to get through insane midday traffic to make a purchase. The only benefit now is that you can choose your seats in advance…. Whoopee!

Ghana has their own word for this rampant fraud now – rivaling the Nigerian 419 scams – the Ghanaian term is Sakawa.

Cyber cafes in the Nima slum run a booming business… rows and rows of 17 – 25 year olds (mostly guys), lit up behind the monitors, with the intense sounds and smells of the gritty streets outside, drowned out by the dream of getting rich quick.

There are as many types of scams as guys running them. The numbers are mind-boggling. In a continent that represents only 3% of global Internet users, and a country where Internet penetration is at less than 1 million people, Ghana has ranked among the world’s top 10 for Internet fraud.

This month Ghana’s government has announced their plan to “set up an emergency Cyber Crime Response Team, to review existing legislature governing the Information Communication and Technology (ICT) activities and strengthen the country's cyber security.”

I hope that this makes a difference, but if we look to ‘big brother Nigeria’, the chances are slim… There is just too much promise for those with the cleverest new scam. Easy money is too tempting to a population of impoverished kids who long to emulate the bling bling, gangster deifying rap stars of the USA, and there are no tangible repercussions… except for those of us who want to use our credit cards in Ghana – legally! Users beware...
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Johan said...

Hello from Holland

The pale observer said...

Hello Johan! Thanks for dropping by.

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Obibini Bruni said...

I can understand why it would bother someone who has the money to leave the country and go places where a credit card can be used. The thing is, geopolitical inequalities have created such a situation, so how can we blame those who are doing this?

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