Police and investigators fear organised gangs of fraudsters are expanding across sub-Saharan Africa, exploiting new opportunities as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and the global economic crisis to make huge sums with little risk of being caught.
The growth will have a direct impact on the rest of the world, where many victims of “hugely lucrative” fraud live, senior police officials have said.
Experts attribute the surge in cybercrime in Africa to rapid growth of internet use at a time when police forces and criminal justice systems have been weakened by the economic consequences of a series of major challenges.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated digitalisation around the world, but as life has shifted increasingly online, cybercriminals have exploited the opportunity to attack vital digital infrastructure,” said Prof Landry Signé, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of a recent report on the problem. “States across Africa have emerged as a favourite target of cybercriminals, with costly consequences.”
Interpol have described online scams such as banking and credit card fraud as the most prevalent and pressing cyberthreat in Africa. The Covid-19 pandemic led to a sustained increase in the volume of cyber-attacks, including more than twice as many targeting online banking platforms, analysts at the organisation have said.
A major operation earlier this month coordinated by Interpol in 14 countries underlined the scale of the threat from cybercrime on the continent and beyond. Police arrested more than 70 alleged fraudsters linked to a Nigerian criminal