Internet Scamming in Ghana

Internet Scamming in Ghana


[MUSIC PLAYING] THOMAS MORTON: Hi,
it’s Thomas. We’re in Ghana, the internet
capital of Africa. If you ever wonder what happens
to computers that you donate to one of those green
e-recycling programs, this is basically it. Kids from the north of Ghana
come to this junkyard during the summer to break computers
down for scrap and also inhale things that will probably end
up giving them cancer of the everything. THOMAS MORTON: Most of the
computers are only worth the dollar or two of copper you
can melt out of them. But occasionally you harvest
something useful, like a hard drive or a processor, which
you can sell at the little flea market area next to
the charnel grounds. THOMAS MORTON: Ah, OK. If you’re an especially savvy
shopper, you can actually put together a full working computer
here, one ready to connect you to the fastest
internet in all of Africa. [MUSIC PLAYING] THOMAS MORTON: Ghana puts a
lot of stock in computers. Their internet is directly
linked to Great Britain’s, and they are billboards all over
the capital, extolling the virtues of personal computing. Ghana already is sort of the top
dog of West Africa, where most of its neighbors have
been plagued by war and poverty since independence,
Ghana’s had almost 50 years of stability and growth. Right now they’re hoping
foreign investment will bolster a computer industry
here, which will permanently make them the tech capital
of West Africa. So far it hasn’t quite
materialized, but what has materialized is a thriving
underground economy of fraud and witchcraft called Sakawa. [MUSIC PLAYING] [MUSIC PLAYING] THOMAS MORTON: Sakawa dates back
to Nigeria’s oil boom in the late ’70s. Ghanaians came into the country
to take jobs in the oil fields, and the locals
taught them their favorite pastime, the pen-pal scam. The way it works is you write
to someone in America or England, tell them about an
investment opportunity you have, or just straight up ask
them for money, and they send it to you, and that’s
it– scam over. Eventually the Nigerian
government deported all the Ghanaian guest workers back
home, and they brought the pen-pal scam with them. Then they combined
it with magic. THOMAS MORTON: As the internet
took hold in Ghana, the pen-pal scam was adapted
to email. Then scammers started hooking
up with hackers online and incorporating things like credit
card fraud into their scams, which became increasingly complex and lucrative. We kind of like the idea of
making a living off the back American stupidity, so we hooked
up with a Sakawa gang, led by a young Ghanaian
named Sefa. THOMAS MORTON: And now the
term just gets used– THOMAS MORTON: –for
everything. THOMAS MORTON: Sefa’s a
Sakawa success story. He’s used his old scam earnings
to pay for business school and has made a nice
living for himself by Ghanaian standards, although he still has
to cross a stream of urine every night to get
into his house. Sakawa comprises any number of
online scams, but the majority boil down to two basic types. One, you pretend you’re a sexy
girl, convince someone to fall in love with you, and then
they send you money. This is called the
romance scam. The other one is, you use a
stolen or forged credit card number to buy something
online. Then you have it shipped to
someone in the West who sends you money for it. That one’s called the
shopping scam. These two scams sort of
work like templates. Once you nail down the basics
of them, you can start combining them and adding all
sorts of personalized details until your mark feels like he’s
in the middle of some elaborate international business
scheme and not just emailing back and forth with
an African kid on a laptop. The thing with Sakawa is while
it’s essentially free money, it isn’t easy money. To find someone gullible
enough to fall for your shtick, you have to spend
hours and hours emailing hundreds and thousands
of random addresses. THOMAS MORTON: In America,
frustrated gamblers will kiss a lucky penny or pray to Saint
Bernardino for help. Likewise, frustrated Sakawa
boys turn to religion when they’re down on their luck. Only in their case, turning to
religion means driving out into the bush and paying
a juju priest for magic email powers. [DRUMMING] THOMAS MORTON: I’m definitely
in Africa right now. Juju is the local term for what
fancy anthropology types call traditional African
religion. In the same way that Hinduism
is actually more or less a collection of thousands of local
deities and rituals, juju is basically an umbrella
for any West African religious practice that isn’t obviously
Christianity or Islam– or Scientology. One aspect central to all forms
of juju is that the spirit world is morally
neutral. As in the gods don’t give a shit
what you and I do to each other as long as
they get paid. This makes juju perfect
for Sakawa. If you want a leg up on the
competition, you get a juju priest to barter with the
spirits, and then they give you powers. So the point of the juju
ceremony we’re dancing in isn’t to win converts or
teach some sort of a lesson like in church. It’s to demonstrate the priests
ins with the spirit world and advertise
his powers. Powers like channeling a god
who can’t be cut by knifes. Or channeling another god,
who likes throwing eggs. Why is he throwing eggs? THOMAS MORTON: Why, why
does he throw them? THOMAS MORTON: Oh. Waste of powers. The flip side to all this is
once you make a deal with the gods, you’re bound
to their terms. If you piss them off or default
on payment to your juju priest, you end up with the
opposite of powers, like bad luck or AIDS. On top of that the payment
process itself can be pretty tricky. THOMAS MORTON: Westerners may
find stuff like magic eggs and tampon eating a little hard to
swallow, but it’s serious business over here. And not just with like
superstitious bumpkins. Even educated, cosmopolitan
folks like Sefa believe in this. THOMAS MORTON: Besides, is of
any of this really that much weirder than shit like communion
or circumcisions? [CRYING] THOMAS MORTON: That part
was a little rough. [MUSIC PLAYING] THOMAS MORTON: While Sakawa
originally referred to a very specific type of internet fraud
mixed with juju, then it went on to mean any internet
crime involving witchcraft, and now it’s kind of evolved
into its own full-blown subculture. So there’s Sakawa music, Sakawa
movies, Sakawa cars, a Sakawa style of dressing. THOMAS MORTON: Right now Ghana’s
in the throes of Sakawa mania. It’s in all the papers
and movie theaters. It’s bigger than rap. I’m looking for Sakawa movies. Oh, cool, here’s number three. If you want a glimpse at just
how deeply Sakawa’s penetrated the public consciousness,
check this out. They’re already up to “Sakawa
Boys 8,” and the series just started last year. We’re on our way to meet a guy
who makes films about Sakawa. His name is Socrate Safo. He’s actually like the Martin
Scorsese of Ghanaian internet, fraud-based, gangster films. The Ghanaian film industry, or
Ghallywood, operates on kind of a “more is more” principle
of movie making. They crank out hundreds of
titles a year, most of them shot on zero budget in as
quickly as a couple weeks from start to finish. This speed doesn’t do much for
production values, but it does allow them to respond to current
events and to cater their subject matter to their
countrymen’s exact interest. THOMAS MORTON: Realistic. Things drawn from real life. -Ain’t you got nothing
better to do? You asked for it. [LAUGHTER] THOMAS MORTON: Socrate’s movie
touched a nerve in national psyche and brought the issue of
Sakawa to life for a lot of Ghanaians who otherwise wouldn’t
have heard of it. [MUSIC PLAYING] THOMAS MORTON: Since being
thrust into the mainstream, though, Sakawa has drawn a huge
outcry from government officials, tabloids, and
Christian preachers, whose billboards in Accra are almost
as ubiquitous as ads for computer classes and
juju priests. THOMAS MORTON: While the furor
over Sakawa dominates the tabloids and pulpits, the focus
is all on black magic and blood debts and Sakawa boys
turning each other into goats and snakes. None of it tackles the root of
the problem, the fact that over a third of young Ghanaians
are unemployed, and what jobs there are are filled
by corrupt government officials and their cousins. THOMAS MORTON: Up until now
the government’s been more than happy to turn a blind eye
to Sakawa since it’s basically providing regular work for
people that they can’t. There are also persistent rumors
that Sakawa isn’t just limited to gangs of teenage
delinquents, but is actually a popular sideline among
policemen, soldiers and politicians. THOMAS MORTON: Now that’s
Sakawa’s threatening Ghana’s business reputation, the
government’s cracking down. And them and the press have
started a moral panic over it. Just like gangsta rappers in
the early ’90s, Sakawa boys have gone from objects of sort
of cultural fascination to scapegoats for all their
country’s ills. [MUSIC PLAYING] THOMAS MORTON: The end of Sakawa
may not necessarily bring juju Armageddon to Ghana,
but it will leave a bunch of angry young men without
any source of steady income, which is arguably
even scarier. On a lighter note, Ghana just
discovered oil off its shore, so maybe that’ll solve
all their problems. [MUSIC PLAYING]

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About the Author: Oren Garnes

100 Comments

  1. Yes !    I just got an email asking me to invest in a new Ghanaian Oil Drilling Platform – it's run by a ex-general who is now a priest so it is also protected by god himself, I can't go wrong can I?

  2. Western Africa is a disgrace to the rest of Africa, there is nothing like this in North and especially Southern Africa

  3. This whole thing looks like a comedy movie
    Especially being in Ghana and knowing how real and serious this sakawa thing is

  4. "Even educated people believe in this." So they're not too fuckin intelligent then are they. That's the same as dumbasses who pray over and over to a white Jesus while at the same time they wish the government would bomb his home

  5. As he says they're not bad people, ten minutes later someone explains that they would even sacrifice they're kids For money…

  6. Vice are is a subversive racist news organization. I've been watching and analyzing how they report their news. For instance the narrator is going on about their romance scam as he is talking about this scam he mentions about dumb Americans being conned by a kid on a laptop, they insert a video of a kid for their subtle reinforcement of a bigoted inspired imagination. I'm not explaining this to the average pale face for they are a race of liars that is living in a self made world of self deceptions. These next paragraphs I'm about to write is specifically to blacks. To my black kinfolks, think about what they are subconsciously trying to convey. To pull off a romance scam one must have an adult mind and experiences, how in the hell can a 9 year old boy pull that off? These pale faces are psychologically depraved for even our innocent children are caught up in their very sick imaginations. I can find many videos of theirs that have these types of suggestive racist elements in them. Be not fooled, the media was invented by white supremacists. The left and right political ideologies are nothing but the two arms of white supremacy–for white supremacy must control both sides of the argument. There is no real difference between Liberals and Conservatives, one gets to say what they want and the other smiles then pat you on the back. You blacks better wake the hell up and recognize their perverted tag teaming have done to your communities.

  7. Poor baby, what are they doing to it? All of this is fake it does not work if it works Africa, would have been the most powerful continent. We would not need any help from American or Europe

  8. This ain't accurate, want to know about us, come live here and know that the situation as you claim isn't as u think it is.

  9. When the European stole our golds and other stuffs they say called it colonisation but when the blacks also stole their monies they Call it fraud

  10. I am a Sakawa priest, and my ju ju is very strong… It tells me that you are a poor young black man from Ghana. You called the wrong person to be the fraudster against. I now will curse you and your entire family, if you don't send me all the scam money you made for one month. Iiiieeeee, curse curse do your worst, your mother's head will split and burst !!! I can play this game too.

  11. The romance scam; tell them that if you are really the person in the picture, then take a picture of you giving the peace sign, or whatever, , they can't if they are not the girl in the pic.

  12. So wait?! The computers donated by westerners for E-recycling program ends up being dumped in Ghana? I thought the Western government are all about saving the environment? Why are they dumping thier Trash where kids are living in Ghana?!!! I don't blame the sakawa boys. They are just doing what they ought to do.

  13. This hit home with me . I went to a small private college and my economics proffessor was arrested for using fraudulant credit cards to buy computers online and then mail them or send money to Africa .

  14. I been scammed by them a couple of years ago a romance scam
    How stuiped was me I lost $1500 in that one
    So may they rot in hell
    I must admit they sounded very convincing my friend told me I was getting scammed but I did not listen to him

  15. Guys I am Ghanaian and I’m saddened by these activities of these scammers but one thing is that Ghana is a country and the bad activities of some Ghanaians should not tag the good citizens of this peaceful nation. It is not every westerner who prefer the anus, engage in gun violence or are sex abusers . It’s same for all the other countries. # love and respect# Do not be fooled too😂😂What sex can make people do is just annoying

  16. I can introduce the vice team to proper sakawa guys. Very close friends who have made millions in dollars off this shameful act.
    I was recently told by a friend this year when I visited Ghana to accept £500,000 into my UK bank account . Easy money for a very nice percentage but I refused.
    The guy who was showing him around is not a real sakawa guy. If vice will like to get in touch with me. I can help them uncover the real story behind this. These guys are willing to show off how stupid they are and we can make a real documentary about this.

  17. “We kind of liked the idea of making money off of the back of American stupidity”
    You know the victims of these scams are mainly hapless elderly people who have no idea how to navigate the internet, right?

  18. Wtf, African's are worse than teen's from Florida bitting head's off hamster's, exept they'll eat chicken's. gross, and inhumane.

  19. They blame to the white guys and they are ignorantes and they never progress , they want to coming to America and belong to the gans of America.

  20. All the black people don't want to work you have the land start to working and they don't like they want the money easy! But if they see a white, china people they don't like, now China little by little is taking Africa!

  21. This is why we need more places like FreeGeek, so that old computers go to collectors and enthusiasts, instead of being disposed of irresponsibly. I hate to think if all the old Commodore 64s and 386 era machines being destroyed like this.

  22. That lighter note was probably the darkest note you could've ended with. Can't wait to see gs of people dead over that oil ><'

  23. Dear Gana and other african countries,
    I'm so happy to see you guys hacking europe and america who stole your resources. But please do not send any more scam emails that saya; I'm businessman from gana …..etc. Thats too old trick and not useful. Do whatever you like but do not send any scam emails. I had enough to block and delete them.

  24. When I sending email from UK to other UK email accounts, they think carefully before open it or they not response it. But people sending email from Africa to UK, people in the UK open it and response it.

  25. I had an email stating a deceased relative has passed and left a large sum of money ($500,000) somewhere in that ball park and was waiting for a family member to claim… well we can say someone is -$500,000 and i'm up half an M. ☠😂

    Sike.

  26. Ghanaians always praises those who committe fraudulent activities known as sakawa because of lack of ignorance ,poverty and laziness thinking that's the only way of making money.

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