Ghanaian schoolchildren are being taught about the impact of romance scams on UK victims in a “Prevent-style” attempt to stop them becoming fraudsters, one of Britain’s top police officers has revealed.
Officers in the UK are providing Ghanaian police with details of victims’ suffering in an effort to reverse the £90 million a year scammed out of Britons by romance fraudsters, Nik Adams, the commander coordinating UK police’s response to fraud, has disclosed.
In an interview with The Telegraph, he said police, the National Crime Agency (NCA) and the National Economic Crime Centre were trying to tackle at source the problem of Ghanaian children being groomed into seeing UK romance fraud victims as an “investment”.
Alternative “schools” have been set up in Ghana by criminals to teach teenagers how to “catfish”, which involves them trawling the internet for wealthy single women, then creating a convincing fake identity with the aim of gradually persuading their trusting victims that they are the man of their dreams.
The scammers parade their wealth around cities in African countries like Ghana in such a flagrant manner that they even have their own nickname, Sakawa boys, a term which means “putting inside” in the Hausa language.
African detectives learn new skills
The move is part of a wider operation between UK law enforcement agencies and Ghanaian police to share intelligence and provide training to the African detectives to boost their investigative skills and technological capabilities, such as searching seized computers for UK victims who may be in the process of being scammed.
Mr Adams, who met police chiefs in Ghana earlier this year, said officers from the African country’s national economic crime command were masterminding counter-fraud education programmes similar to the UK’s deradicalisation Prevent schemes to prevent young people turning to terrorism.
“I went to see an amazing input in a high school out in a remote village outside of Accra, where the economic crime command of the Ghanaian police service was delivering what we would call a Prevent input to young people,” said Mr Adams, a former counter-terrorism officer.
“They were talking to them about the roots of being drawn into that type of offending, where culturally it’s seen as more acceptable. It’s a way when you live in poverty to earn money. Young kids are groomed to see victims as clients, that they’re providing a service, and investment through romance fraud.
“We are working with the authorities over there to provide information back the other way about what our victims are experiencing so they can build that into their training products to demonstrate to young people in Ghana, the harm that’s been caused through these sorts of activities.
“It is about trying to build the moral courage for people to choose not to engage in that type of criminal behaviour. There are multiple approaches [to tackle fraud] – hard-edge law enforcement and some really powerful prevention work.”
Students taught how not to become victims
In a recent programme in the Volta region, 35,000 students at 24 high schools were taught how to avoid scholarship scams, where they could be defrauded with false promises of academic support, romance and dating scams, as well as advance fee fraud – upfront payments for goods that do not materialise.
Mr Adams said they were providing training to the Ghanaian police similar to that for UK detectives, so they could set “parameters and objectives” around an investigation, then ensure it was adequately resourced and developed into a successful prosecution.
The NCA is advising on technology to help Ghanaian police download data from seized laptops and mobile phones that contain victims’ details. Police are working with criminologists on the most appropriate ways to then tell the victims who may not be aware they are being scammed.
It is hoped the Ghanaian operation will provide a model for similar joint work with other countries in Africa, such as Nigeria, and also in Asia, with countries such as India.
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