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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]


Reader Comments

  1. Yup whites stole resources and left them with scraps.. this are for rich resources countries not only in africa

  2. I like the narrator he doesn’t just dismiss this as vacuous, he is understanding and doesn’t patronise their culture.
    He may even believe in some of these traditions himself

  3. This happened to my aunts husband. He was scammed out of 1200 and they gave his computer a virus after telling him his computer had a virus. How could you give someone your bank info if they don’t speak English?

  4. Duh. Don't have anything to do with Africans and you'll be fine. BTW don't rub poison ivy on your crotch either.

  5. these people don't need money, what will they buy for money anyway? this place is just mud, garbage.. and a bunch of racists hating white people.. just send them more garbage..

  6. Drunk black guy forcing a baby to drink booz…. yep. Now i can see why africa will always be a shit hole

  7. Watching the ritual I am reminded that it looks like any inner city in the USA.. We need to stop it

  8. I had a Ghanaian pen pal in the early 90s. I signed up through a kids' activity book. He was a schoolboy who liked football. He sent me his school picture! We wrote letters back and forth for years. He occasionally asked for cash but I'd send trinket gifts instead. Was this real?!

  9. Thomas Morton, Please educate urself about Jesus Christ who undeniably lived &was crucified 2000 yrs ago. Communion is a way to remember his death. Ur ignorance in comparing this obviously bizzare belief is appalling.

  10. I bet my life you have never said in ur heart "I want Truth no matter the cost" . U can't find something you're your not looking for even if you step on it!

  11. I will be honored to be a reporter for vice. I will do anything and everything to report on what's most interesting. Guaranteed I'll be leading in all my reports.

  12. Not only are these people peices of shit scammers, they also treat their children like shit. I can't believe how that guy was holding that baby by the arm and forcing alcohol into his mouth. Wow, just wow.

  13. Why do these stories always show the poor parts of Africa?Why do the people and the roads look dusty and dirty?

  14. The oil discovery can't change anything.
    Africa's big problem is their governments who make billion dollars in using public money and resources for themselves, the only solution is a govt ruled by AI/robots

  15. The "juju priests" are essentially doing the same thing that western christian televangelists do. Basically bullshitting with outrageous claims and of course…stealing from gullible people that believe you.

  16. 2:18 “the white man” stop playing the victims and putting your problems on the white men. Get off your lazy feet start helping your own country, what about all those uk American doctors nurses missionary good white people that go to your filthy country and help your people for FREE!! Then get sued at the end pathetic. I’ve never heard the last time someone from Ghana left to study abroad then came back to help their people in need that victim s$&[email protected] got old.

  17. "It isn't easy" Yes, it is, that is why they are doing it. It is just laborious, but you are compensating for the zero risk. They talk it up like no one else knows how to do it, no dude, you need people who are as dumb as you who have more than you. The internet takes millions of hours of work and trial and error in jail away from that. The voodoo and magic of the internet is pretty damn magical though, in contrast to anything else they apply effort to. I like the one guy who puts himself through business school, he probably thought a lot more about what is on the other end of those connections. Ghana and Nigeria need to make a deal, I think I know a prince or maybe a fresh one.

  18. Narrator please speak more clearly and don't compare holy communion to some magic witchcraft ceremony.

  19. Africa is the third world still, notice how these countries are completely black still, no multi-culturalism at all, white folk don't want to live with them for obvious reasons. Vice have to put sub titles on the video even when the Africans are speaking in English. LOL That's how ridiculous these people are.

  20. Yes anyone asking for money or services is a scammer. Here's a video on how to dodge a dating scam: https://youtu.be/I8jNTUztr1s

  21. I would’ve done the same in their position. It’s either scamming relatively rich people via Internet or starving

  22. Homo Erectus is not extinct, just renamed sub saharan african. When you and your fellow countrymen have an average IQ of 70, I do not consider you to be homo sapiens.

  23. The reason why they scam it’s cause they’re clients are all outside Ghana in places like un French Italy Spain…and there is no way to arrest a scammer from another country ahajaj

  24. “Is this this shit even worse than communion?”

    Shows baby being held by 1 arm and forced to drink alcohol.

    yeah i thinks its worst than communion.

  25. Prince Allure Shmezbut wont be happy with them going public and bringing the royal committee under possible backlash.

  26. It's been 200 years since colonization and you fucks still can't repair a prebuilt bridge. Blame it on the white man but you fucks can't figure out how to get rid of child soldiers and slaves. Fuck the "Motherland"

  27. I enjoy playing with these morons from their shit hole country. I play along with them for a little while then I curse them out. Love wasting their time

  28. Use your brains positively. Work with your hands and stop converting what is not yours. Also there’s time for everting. Have patience

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