Internet’s dangers as Africa’s online crime doubles

June 13, 2014

With the number of Internet users across the East African countries continuing to rise rapidly, the security researchers have revealed the incidence of Internet-related crimes in the continent last year had more than doubled. According to a cyber crimes researcher, there were more 908 recorded Internet-related crime in 2013 compared to the 704 cases reported the previous year. The crimes, according to a researcher I spoke to, ranged from scams to defraud people of money to soliciting prostitution and defamation. Online scams recorded the biggest increase last year, with 798 complaints lodged in 2012, up from 132 in 2011. In one of the five countries, police found that scams were usually conducted via online shopping Web sites, through e‑mails or social networking sites such as Facebook and online messaging services. Other popular targets were online dating and classifieds sites. The public has been asked to exercise caution when conducting online transactions and to thoroughly research which Web sites were fake or had bad reputations from other users. One researcher told me that people shouldn’t trust people who are trawling dating Web sites claiming to be looking for partners. It could just be a cover to try to scam you out of your money.

He added that women and children were most often found the victims of online scams because “they are easily influenced psychologically.” The researchers also received a significant increase in reports about defamation, totaling 349 last year compared to 97 in 2012. “Although it happens online, it can have a negative impact,” he said. “People feel their reputations have been tarnished in front of a wider audience. East African countries have no laws that tackles online defamation and is not specifically dealt with and there is no known punishment. Meanwhile, there were more than 200 online prostitution rackets that were uncovered by researchers in 2013. As for 2014, researchers have already received one report about prostitution being solicited online, adding that they would continue to monitor online prostitution syndicates as well as trafficking rings operating on the Internet. These cases must be watched closely as the victims are usually women and children according to one of the sleuths involved. As technology continued to develop and Internet access became more widely available in East Africa, the number of Internet-related crimes would also increase. The researchers are planning to release a list of Web sites found to be operating scams and also provide information for parents about safe Internet use before the end of this year.

Contador Harrison