Rising Threat: Teens Embrace Cybercrime, While Nation Grapples with Escalating Losses

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By Safia Adams

Africa has the world’s oldest record of human technological achievement; the oldest stone tools in the world have been found in eastern Africa, and later evidence for tool production by humans’ hominin ancestors has been found across West, Central, East, and southern Africa.

The history of science and technology in Africa since then has, however, received relatively little attention compared to other regions of the world.

Africa’s current record of human technological achievement in the world is not so noble: thousands of its youth are in the news for being ensnared in technology-related crime. It seems African youth are particularly seduced by the alluring ease, moral ambiguity and bountifulness of faceless digital crime opportunities offered by the World Wide Web.

Hacking, spamming, identity theft, child pornography, cyber bullying, gambling, and cyber stalking are just a few examples of cyber-crimes.

The average age of suspected cyber-attackers has dropped dramatically to just 17, experts say. The street credibility of committing crime lures teenagers on to the wrong side of the law, and pranks used in online gaming can spiral out of control.

Cybercrime costs dearly.

Cybercrime is one of the most prolific forms of international crime, with damages set to cost the global economy USD 10.5 trillion annually by 2025, according to Cybersecurity Ventures.

Speaking at the CYBERUK conference in London, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said:

“We want to see international law respected in cyberspace, just like anywhere else. And we need to show how the rules apply to these changes in technology, the changes in threats, and the systemic attempts to render the internet a lawless space.”

Photo courtesy of Interpol

A 2017 assessment coordinated by INTERPOL with partners and member countries in Africa found that each act of Internet fraud targeting businesses enabled cybercriminals to steal an average of USD 2.7 million from companies and USD 422,000 from individuals.

According to the Ghana Security Operations Center (SOC), Ghana lost $105 million in 2019 due to cybercrime. In 2020, Parliament passed the Cybersecurity Act to protect critical national infrastructure, regulate online activity and protect children from online exploitation. In November of the same year, the cybercrime unit made headlines when it arrested the administrator of Empressleak, a website that extorted people by posting revenge pornography.

The cost of cybercrime also includes higher risks such as addiction to cyberbullying, sexual solicitation, and child pornography, which result in negativity in youth.

The Ghana Police Service, as part of its transformation agenda, in September this year implemented a comprehensive reorganization of the cybercrime unit (CU) at the CID Headquarters: the unit has been decentralized to all 25 police regional commands across the country “to bring its services closer to the public”.

This strategic reorganization has positioned the CU as an expert unit to support criminal investigation by delivering services such as cyber forensic analysis, digital device forensic analysis, mobile and network forensic analysis, and digital content forensic analysis instead of its initial focus on general criminal investigations such as building case dockets and direct handling of suspects.

During the Accra media launch for the National Cybersecurity Awareness Month earlier this month, Albert Antwi-Boasiako, the Director-General of the Cyber Security Authority (CSA), announced that Ghana recorded GH¢49.5m losses through cyber fraud in the first half of 2023.

The CSA boss explained that cyber frauds reported to the Authority are in the forms of “cyberbullying, online loan apps, shopping frauds, romance fraud, settling impersonation among others”. This figure constitutes only a fraction of cases reported to state agencies while financial losses of unreported cases could exceed the amount reported so far.

Results from a recent survey of residents of Adabraka, the heart of Ghana’s capital Accra, indicate that Ghanaian youth of school-going age blame the high cost of living in the country as a factor that led them to gambling and other cyber activities.

“There are advantages and disadvantages in everything so with this technological era we gain a lot and even the government is taking tax from us. The system is hard and there is nothing we can do”, explains resident Joseph Amanor, 15, regarding his betting activities.

In 2021, 15 young men were arrested in Nima and lapaz for indulging in internet fraud activities. Abraham Kweku, 17, who was one of the suspects describes himself today as a repentant fraudster.

“At first, I used to [de]fraud people [online], but the moment this betting company came, I no longer [de]fraud”, he explained, saying he wins often, and he spends most of his time watching funny videos on social media all day.

Aunty Araba, Abraham’s mother, said she was devastated when her son got arrested.

“I crashed on the floor in agony when the news came that my only son is involved in cybercrime activities. I’m glad he’s not doing that anymore.”

What can be done about teen cybercrime?

Mayuri Bhamare, founder and director of cybersecurity and artificial intelligence firm & Director ACE Software n Web Solutions (ACESnWS), says cautious parents must have a healthy communication with their teens so they will be open to discuss the allure when the temptation comes. She suggests the following 0 parenting tips:

  • Keep track of which social networking sites and their passwords
  • Keep a track of their social posts, who likes them, and who their friends are
  • Occasionally check their cell phones, with their permission obviously
  • Check their browser history, what they are accessing apart from social networking
  • Suggest strong passwords which are difficult to hack for them
  • Make them aware of different cybercrimes, like cyberbullying, cyberstalking, sexting etc., so that they will communicate with you freely if they are facing it
  • Keep track of what videos or content they are downloading
  • Guide them for privacy and minimizing digital footprint and online stalking, especially your daughters
  • Keep anti-virus installed and updated on your family computer
  • Keep webcams covered when not in use

And if you have any information of suspected cybercrime, call toll-free:292, SMS: 292, Whatsapp: 0501603111, Email: intel@police.gov.gh/ report@csa.gov.gh, or Phone: 0592522300.

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