INTERNET FRAUD FROM 419 TO “SAKAWA”-A Challenge For The Church

Sep 1st, 2009 | By | Category: Featured Articles

By Rev. Patrick Kofi Amissah, St. Paul Methodist Church, Tema.

In an article, Internet Fraud to Modern Day Sakawa – The Untold Synonymity, published on Joy FM website, Richard Nii Abbey reports that at the launch of Microsoft internet safety and security campaign in Accra, statistics on internet usage revealed that currently, Ghana is ranked 10th country among the world’s top cyber fraud countries. This is a bad signal for a country which is priding itself as the gateway to Africa. The prevalence of internet fraud variously called “419” or “SAKAWA” has scared foreign investors who, most often than not, have been previously duped when they contacted some supposed local businessmen in Ghana for business transaction over the internet. The fact that the introduction of the internet as part of the information super-highway has been of great blessing to worldwide communication and transfer of information cannot be over-emphasised, despite its attended problems. This, coupled with the recent repeated news items on the exposure of SAKAWA deals in our media today, calls for worry, and the church is seriously challenged to take a serious look at the issue.

Biblical Perspective

Internet fraud is obviously not a topic that the Bible primarily teaches. However, the rapidity with which knowledge is increasing and the unprecedented rise in the quest for quick money among the young people of today has some references from the bible. The biblical perspective in this topic is thus twofold. First, what the Bible says about the upsurge of modern technology as in Daniel 12:1-4 and second, what the Bible says about end time criminality as in 2 Timothy 3:1-4.

Daniel 12:1-4 reads:

And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever. But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased. (KJV)

The quest for knowledge has really increased in our time and many discoveries have made technology accessible to many. We call our age the age of information super highway or hyper technology. The mobile phone, the computer, the internet and many other information and ICT materials are available and reasonably affordable. Really, knowledge has increased. Unfortunately, this has come with its attendant evils such as SAKAWA.

2 Timothy 3:1-4 also reads: But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them. (NIV)

No wonder all sorts of crime including SAKAWA are going on. The young people of today are chasing money from a wrong angle. They have not learnt from John Wesley to earn all they can, save all they can and give all they can. Various dubious activities are being employed by these young people to ensure that they get rich. They have indeed become lovers of money and wicked people. This trend can only be stopped with God’s intervention.

SAKAWA


Thy Kingdom come, O God,
Thy rule, O Christ, begin;
Break with Thine iron rod
The tyrannies of sin.

When comes the promised time
That war shall be no more—
Oppression, lust, and crime,
Shall flee Thy face before?

The Internet

The Internet could be simply defined as an inter-connection of networks. In a simple sense, it explains a connection that one person can have with another from any part of this planet to share information. Thus through the internet, one person can connect to and access information from people on other networks.

The Internet serves as an excellent tool for investors, allowing them to easily and inexpensively research investment opportunities. The Internet also allows individuals or companies to communicate with a large audience without spending a lot of time, effort, or money. Anyone can reach tens of thousands of people by building an Internet web site, posting a message on an online bulletin board, entering a discussion in a live “chat” room, or sending mass e-mails. It allows information sharing through e-mails, online calls, and webcam communication. With the internet, there is always fast Communication through chatting and texting. Business transactions such as e-commerce and e-investments are also possible through the internet. Scholars and students also use the internet for academic researches and it is very affordable and cost saving.

However, the Internet is also an excellent tool for fraudsters. People do all sorts of fraudulent deals on the internet.

It is easy for fraudsters to make their messages look real and credible, almost impossible for business people and investors to tell the difference between fact and fiction on the internet. Through this, many people have been defrauded and duped.

Internet Fraud

Internet fraud is the act of defrauding unknown persons over the internet. Various modus operandi ranging from issuing of fake cheques to using of falsely acquired credit cards to make dubious purchases. The schemes used

by these fraudsters seem to be growing every day with the influx  of improved technology. Some use Spam and scary e-mails soliciting for funds in support of people who are supposed to be in need. They get into one person’s address book and send mails to all his or her friends that that person is in serious crisis and needs urgent help. An account is given for people to put in the little they have. Some also come up with some promotions, business or travel opportunity and ask interested persons to pay some commitment fee into an account (the amount is always small, manageable and negligible). It always turns out that the organizers are nonexistent and sometimes the addresses and other contacts given are incorrect 419. The number “419” refers to the article of the Nigerian Criminal Code recorded in Chapter 38 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The code is titled: Obtaining Property by False Pretences or Cheating. This chapter mainly deals with fraud. The 419 scam originated in the early 1980s as the oil based Nigerian economy declined. Several unemployed university students first used this scam as a means of manipulating business visitors interested in shady deals in the Nigerian oil sector before targeting businessmen in the West, and later the wider population. Scammers in the early to- mid 1990s targeted companies, sending scam messages via letter, fax or telex. The spread of e-mail and easy access to e-mail-harvesting software significantly lowered the cost of sending scam letters by utilizing the Internet.

Sakawa/Penpal Club

As technology increased, there was widespread knowledge that most business conducted over the internet was susceptible to internet fraud. Thus many businessmen/women became extremely cautious of transaction on the internet. This knowledge led to the decline of the 419 trade. So steep was the decline that many perpetrators of 419 sought spiritual guidance in their action. SAKAWA then became the type of internet fraud that used spiritual or cultic assistance in achieving the aim of defrauding unsuspecting people.

As the demand for the spiritual processes intensified, a new dimension to SAKAWA was developed. Though totally not new, the use of the term SAKAWA to refer to “blood money” or “quick money” evolved just recently when spirituality attached to internet fraud broke off to stand on its own as a new way of making money. The culprits are mainly the youth, who for want of a quick money generating venture; go in for these means of making money. These people can usually be seen riding in posh cars which were bought with the money accrued from SAKAWA. Various spiritual assistance is given to these sakawa boys to help them achieve their aim.

Rings: Most people who consulted spiritual guidance were given special rings to wear on a particular finger to be used during the transaction over the internet. This ring allegedly possesses the power of charming a victim into succumbing to the whims and caprices of the fraudsters. After the victims have been charmed, the perpetrators will then go on to make their demand which cannot be refused by the victims.

Sleeping in Caskets or Coffins

Another spiritual dimension taken by sakawa is the use of caskets. Three or four people interested in cyber crime contact a spiritualist who will make them sleep in a casket or coffin for a particular number of days. In taking this journey, they are made to understand that one of them would not survive the ordeal. The interested parties then gamble with their lives as they definitely know one of them stands a chance of dying as a result. Consequently, one dies and the surviving persons go on to become spiritually strong and they may use their spiritual strength to indulge in more SAKAWA deals. Money immediately accrued from the death of the unfortunate person is used to organize a lavish funeral for the deceased. Whereas the spiritual ring provides an added advantage to perpetrating of SAKAWA, the casket method seems to be the most powerful as a result of the sacrifice of one human life

Carrying Coffin through the street at nigh

These culprits go about late in the night carrying coffins which have been fortified with magical powers to draw unto it the souls of innocent individuals who get frightened by the mere sight of a casket at midnight. The perpetrators require panic from the victims to make more money out of the untimely death of these unfortunate ones who may chance on this weird situation. The more panic-stricken people come across the strange coffin, the more money the

perpetrators spiritually accrue from their unwholesome trade. Reports have been received in several parts of Accra of the death of people who were alleged to have chanced upon the strange spectacle. In the SAKAWA cities around the nation, people carrying these coffins have been spotted chanting  and calling for the souls of babies whomay be heard crying in the night.

Conditionality

Another spiritual approach is the provision of conditions as a result of the outcome or success or failure of SAKAWA deals. One of the conditions which perpetrators of sakawa are given is that they are debarred from bathing. As long as the perpetrators remain without taking their bath, the potency of the spiritual power would be at its highest efficacy. One of the news of this example making rounds is that a young man, who went for this type of method, spent a great number of days without taking his bath. On a very unfortunate day, his mother just jokingly sprinkled water on him, not knowing the repercussions. She felt that the son had developed an offensive odour. This marked the death of the boy. He fell down foaming and that was the end. Another boy got mad when after a drinking adventure, his girl friend washed his face with water in order to bring him back to normal life. It is believed the repercussions of the breach in this spirituality method can never be compromised.

There are other conditions prescribed for the practitioners. They are asked to eat from a refuse dump; search for old blood-soaked women’s pads from the refuse dump; walk bare-footed, or prevented from sleeping at night. Others are given some few number of years to live to enjoy the wealth while some are asked not to spend the money on their immediate families. Still others are banned from eating food cooked by a woman.

Daily Guide in its 1st May, 2009, edition reported that Nana Azumbi also known as “Motia Father,” a renowned sakawa spiritualist, has been busted by the police for allegedly defrauding people of various sums of money under the pretext of doubling it. His arrest has led to several interesting occurrences on the same issue within the media landscape. For instance, Peace FM online reported that groups of suspected Blood Money, SAKAWA boys, have been arrested by the Ghana Police following a tip off. Peace FM sources say upon the arrest of the gentlemen, coffins and gallons full of blood and a girl of about seven years old with her mouth sealed with cello tape , were found in the room which is suspected to be their hideout.

Negative effects on the Youth

The seriousness of the sakawa problem is that it is perpetrated by young people. An alarming trend now is the active part being played by children of school going age who are mostly seen at internet cafes indulging in the act. Some children involved in sakawa deals have become lesbians and homosexuals. They indulge in such acts with their foreign partners on the internet, using webcams and microphones. This is a cause for worry because it is thwarting the church’s effort to fight against lesbianism an homosexuality. As they are caught young into these acts, we may lose them forever unless there is divine intervention. Due to the spiritual nature of sakawa related cases, legal proceedings against arrested practitioners normally come to a standstill because of lack of evidence. Most arrested practitioners are normally charged with issues other than the substantive one for which they were arrested.

Challenge to the Church

The church as an agent of change in society, has a critical challenge here as far as SAKAWA is concerned. Some questions that the church needs to answer are: Are our members involved? Are our young people caught up in this scandal? Do SAKAWA perpetrators visit our chapels? Are these dealers our neighbours? Are church members victims of SAKAWA deals? Are church members victims of SAKAWA spiritual manipulations? What are the implications of the negative effects of SAKAWA on the society for the church? These and many other questions tell us that the church must act.

First, we must educate our members on the reality of the sakawa deals so that they can be wise as serpents by watching out not to be victims of circumstances and also be holy as doves by not indulging in it themselves. Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves (Matthew 10:16 KJV).

Again, the church must fi nd a very appropriate means of helping young people to use the internet and other modern technology positively. This can be through guided use by young people in the church’s own café for this purpose, or through proper education for them to be vigilant.

Through our guidance and counseling and other educational programmes, we must emphasize the positive use of the internet as enumerated earlier and encourage our members to use it as such.

We must also teach our members to work for money and not allow the love of money to sway them from diligence. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows (1Ti 6:10).

Christian parents must also control the use of the internet by their children. Those who have it at home can block some sites and monitor their children as they use it.

The church must also approach the problem spiritually. We need to pray and seek God’s face to intervene so as to destroy the powers of the demonic authorities behind SAKAWA and other spiritually motivated frauds. Also, people who are counseled to leave the practice must be prayed for and, if need be, delivered from the powers of Satan that might have engulfed them.

Conclusion

The issue of Sakawa is one which requires a general consensus of all the stakeholders involved. There should be legislation by the law making agencies to streamline activities of all manner of persons who use the internet. The current trend is showing a general increase in the practice of Sakawa. If action is not taken, it will reach an epidemic level. The church as a major actor in state development, has a huge task in helping curb this criminal activity. We need both physical and spiritual approaches in tackling these issues. As we engage in these moves to rid our congregations and communities of SAKAWA, let us make Bernard of Clairvaux’s hymn our prayer:

O Jesus, ever with us stay,

Make all our moments

calm and bright;

Chase the dark night

of sin away,

Shed over the world

Thy holy light.+

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