By Chinedu Ozordi Ifeanyi Mbadugha was pleasantly surprised when he got an email, on October 13, containing an employment letter from Mobitel Nigeria Ltd. The 2004 graduate of Marketing was ecstatic, because the stipulated remuneration and benefits were double his present pay. However, his elation evaporated as he got to the fine print at the end of the offer letter. “They said I was required to come (for resumption on October 16) with an affidavit certifying all the credentials that they asked me to bring for the documentation,” he said. “Ordinarily that would not have been a problem, except that they directed me to a particular lawyer to do it. That was the first sign that something was amiss. I called the lawyer, and he told me to bring N6000.” Biting at the bait This served to grow his suspicion that he was the target of a scam. Nevertheless he played along, half out of a desire to see how it would end, and half believing that it could still be real. “I told the man that I could only afford N3000, and he told me to pay into his account and bring the rest on resumption day,” he said. “So I paid, and on Saturday, I left as early as 5am, only to get to the Mobitel office in Victoria Island to see almost 50 other people with similar offer letters.” The company personnel were as surprised as the deluge of expectant youth that raided their offices that day. Before 9am, as many as 30 of them had turned up. Their excited air of expectations turned to incredulity; and then to rage as they realised that they were victims of a massive scam. “Three of them came from Ghana,” said Mr Mbadugha. “Some came by (air) flight. It was really terrible. The company workers were very embarrassed. I later discovered that 22 of us paid various sums into the account. The rest either were too ashamed to say, or they were smart enough not to pay beforehand. Mobitel’s defence Staff of the telecoms company moved quickly to dispel any lingering doubts. Staff vehicles were placed at the disposal of the stranded youth, to take them to their various addressed listed by the lawyers. “The first one (at Maryland) turned out to be a hotel,” said Mr Mbadugha. “The second one, at Anthony Village, did not even exist. Someone suggested going to the police with the account numbers to ask the banks to block it, but I knew it was fruitless. They must have withdrawn the whole money by then.” Scandalised by the affair, the company swung into motion to discourage other prospective scammers by issuing disclaimers. One of which was published on their website read thus: “Mobitel Limited has been informed that unknown persons who are not affiliated with Mobitel are fraudulently soliciting money from prospective job applicants for positions with Mobitel Limited. Prospective applicants have received e-mails promising job seekers positions with us upon payment of a fee and the receipt of the recipients’ curriculum vitae. Please be advised that Mobitel does not solicit payments from job seekers. Any requests for such payments should be regarded as fraudulent. Mobitel has absolutely no connection to any of these e-mails or related communications or persons. We believe these communications are part of an attempt to perpetrate fraud on unsuspecting members of the public. Adverts for positions with Mobitel are normally made on the career page of our website.” Hunting nearer home Hundreds of companies have found themselves in the situation that Mobitel did in recent times, as Internet scammers (popularly known as Yahoo Boys) have begun to latch on to the millions of desperate job seekers in the country. The fraudsters also go to the lengths of building websites, taking paid adverts in newspapers, and actually conducting aptitude tests/interviews for applicants. “One Yahoo boy in my neighbourhood is already begging to see that letter because he is interested,” said Mr Mbadugha. The Yahoo boy, who gave his name as Henry, a 2002 Economics graduate, said he had attempted a similar scam last year, but did not succeed because he felt that it was poorly executed. “I used the name of an unknown company, that is why (it didn’t work),” he said. “What I will do now is to invest money in it. Put it in the papers or even if it’s just to print posters and paste around. Use the name of a big company that people will be eager to apply for. For the past three months, I never receive money from white man. This won’t be a bad idea.” Gullible and desperate youth Critics have been swift in condemning the gullible nature of university graduates in falling prey to such scams. “If a person who spent four years in the university can be stupid enough to pay for a job, then that person deserves to be hoodwinked,” said Onyekachi Ukwuoma, a Human Resource Executive. “And even when some, especially government, agencies ask for payment, don’t they make it as transparent as possible? At least they either ask you to purchase application forms, or PIN for online applications.” However, most unemployed youth disagree with Mr Ukwuoma. A snap survey revealed that most of them are not averse to paying for getting jobs. Charles Nwaorgu, a 2008 Sociology graduate is one. “I have a friend that got a job through one company like that,” he said. “When she was paying the N2500 they requested before aptitude test, I was like this could be a scam. But she paid, and wrote the test. Now she is working. Another company, (Zipha Recruitment), have also sent me email. They are charging various amounts for different qualifications. I think I will try it. You can’t just allow such opportunities pass because of fear.” And that is the mentality that Mr Mbadugha has chosen to adopt. “If one allows such things discourage him, things will only get worse. Nigeria is all about opportunity, and one must always be on the look out.” Next wow.