Law enforcement officials say hundreds, and possibly thousands, of jobless youth have turned the Worldwide Web into a scamming network, infiltrating the police, banks and government ministries.

Through free online advertising and social networking sites, this new generation of con men is armed with forged identification and business authorization documents. They pose as suppliers of cash crops, minerals, artifacts, protected wildlife and even orphans for adoption. Their targets are usually Europeans and Americans -- both individuals and organizations.

Abeng Roland is a member of the International Criminal Bar, as well as the Cameroon and American bar associations. He has sent the minister of posts and telecommunications a report on the growing list of victims.

What really made me write to the minister is the rampant surge in the reports and complaints on scamming that we?ve had for the last six months. In fact, there are days when we have about 20 reports; complaints from foreigners and mostly investors who want to buy from Cameroon who thought that the people they were dealing with were authentic, while [in fact] they were scammers. And we have been having these complaints from the embassies, too, because their citizens report to them. It?s becoming so alarming that we need to do something. It?s the image of the country that?s affected.

Internet scamming victims are lured in when they express interest in advertised products, usually through e-mail. The advanced-fee fraudsters first create a relationship of confidence, generally requesting a small fee through wire services to enable them to process pre-shipment and delivery documents.

Then they create additional financial demands for ?unforeseen expenses,? like customs duties, child adoption costs and medical and veterinary fees for pets. Unsuspecting victims usually realize too late that they?re paying for goods they?ll never see.

Western diplomatic missions in Cameroon, like the US Embassy, advise their nationals not to do business on the Internet. But often such warnings fall on deaf ears. In fact, a few years ago, a British national who came to Cameroon to track down scammers who fleeced him out of millions of pounds was found dead in the capital, Yaounde.


Abeng says the government has been slow to respond to the problem, thus encouraging online criminality. He says more young people are drawn in by the absence of punishment and the scammers? lavish lifestyles. Some have even hijacked official government websites, and Abeng says others are setting up sites with their telephone numbers and e-mail addresses falsely claiming to belong to government officials.

There?s Ali Baba. Ali Baba has almost 2000 Cameroonian phone numbers. Those numbers are scam numbers. We see them every day. The minister should annul those numbers. He has the powers, and it?s as simple as that. Nigeria had been there, but there?s a lot that?s being done at the level of governance [regarding] telecommunications [to curb cybercrime].

Last year, Cameroon?s minister of posts and telecommunications, Jean Pierre Biyiti Bi Essam, declared war on fraud in electronic communications. Among others things, he ordered all mobile telephone subscribers to be identified. But not much appears to have changed. In January, US cyber-security firm McAfee said Cameroon is home to the world?s riskiest Internet sites.

The government responded by announcing it was working with South Korean experts to solve the problem. But Abeng says scammers are still doing a brisk business because there?s been more talk than action.

It?s not enough. We have laws that are very good. But we should also do something at the level of action, and [that] can only be done by our justice department, our police department and our telecommunications department. We need action or else hardworking Cameroonians like you and me will never reap the fruits of our labor.

The government is drafting a new law that would give it the power to set up a cyber police force by the end of this year. The bill that has been tabled in Parliament would also define major cybercrimes, including pedophilia, child pornography, infringements to human dignity, the propagation of false rumors and intrusion into the banking system. It will also determine criminal charges and penalties.