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Why does being in Africa make you untrustworthy?

I haven’t been able to use PayPal for two months. I just got profiled for extra security measures on Facebook. I can’t make certain purchases from Africa. Few organisations ship goods to me here in Kenya.

Let’s be honest; living in Africa, or being African, gives you a certain unwelcome aroma in the eyes of global corporations. Frankly, we’re just not trustworthy.

This isn’t new to any of us who live, or spend a great deal of time, in Africa. You’re blacklisted, given extra screening, and generally treated like a second-rate human. You’re not trusted, and you’re not worth the time to figure out if you can be trusted.

Frankly, as a total continent-wide user base, we just don’t make enough of a blip on the radar to be worth their time. There’s not enough money here in their minds, there is lower-hanging fruit elsewhere with a lot more spending history – and therefore power.

Does it make it right? No. Do my own stories of wrongs and misbehavior matter? No.

Jon Gosier states it well when reflecting on his blacklisting by PayPal (one of the very worst company offenders):

“Once again, the message perpetuated here is to be cautious when dealing with Africans, Africa or anything you suspect of being related to the aforementioned.”

A closer look at African cyber crime


From the Internet Crimes Complaints Centre (IC3) 2009 Annual Report [PDF download]

Nigeria has a significant 8%, but Ghana, South Africa and Cameroon all come in at a measly 0.7%. How in the world do Africans get so much worse treatment for so little compared to the others? There’s no doubt that one country in a continent of 52 countries has a problem – we all get punished for it.

Here are some more interesting statistics, according to the Consumer Fraud Reporting statistics for 2009:

“The majority of reported perpetrators (66.1%) were from the United States; however, a significant number of perpetrators where also located in the United Kingdom, Nigeria, Canada, China, and South Africa.”

So, there are two strong Africa contenders for fraud, but it’s amazing how much more hell internet consumers in African nations (outside of Nigeria and South Africa even!) have to go through in comparison to their much more cybercrime-ridden finalists like the US, Canada and the UK…

Texas in Africa puts this well after a recent foray into this space with Delta:

“it also reflects knee-jerk prejudice and the willingness to write off an entire continent of people as liars and cheaters. The consequences of this attitude are far reaching”

Too true, and there are only two ways that this might change:

First, we in Africa come up with our own payment and business solutions that work here first, and then interact with other global systems.

Second, the global corporates wake up and realise that there is quite a bit of spending power and money to be made in Africa, just like the mobile operators found out in the 90s.

Author | Erik Hersman: In Kenya

Erik Hersman: In Kenya
I grew up in Kenya and Sudan. I’m one of those guys who’s much more “at home” in Africa, and I currently live in Kenya. I’m happily married and have 3 beautiful little girls that keep me on my toes. I write two main blogs: White African is my... More
  • Very surprised not to see Russia and Ukraine on that list? Russia, and increasingly China too, are both havens fro cybercriminals. You can't tell me Ghana and South Africa have more sophisticated cyber crims and more reported fraud than Russia? That global chart seems incorrect. I notice in the PDF they give this caveat (perpetrator demographics represents information provided to the victim by the perpetrator so actual perpetrator statistics may vary greatly.) Now in the world of online fraud where identity is rarely given or noted, I find these numbers to be inaccurate based on that variable. Admittedly, due to the anonymity of online fraud, statistics for demographics must be difficult to attain. Of course, then we have to ask, if these stats are so amorphous, how come we're getting such a bad rep? Perhaps our government and our financial institutions need to embark on a PR campaign? Would be interesting to get comment from PayPal as to why they decided to enter SA, despite all this supposed fraud.

  • Well, what do you expect from people who think South Africa is a continent!

  • Ian

    Percentages are misleading – for instance the fact that Nigerians make up 8% of the TOTAL is huge. These need to be converted as a % of the respective countries paypal user base. That will no doubt indicate a proportionally higher risk amongst African countries.

  • Hi Erik – as a Canadian living in Ghana I can totally relate and I think it's sad. Blogged about this a while ago too –

    Unfortunately there is a cartel of young trainees across West Africa, with no job prospects, lining up at cyber cafes everywhere to try their hand a scamming.

    There are websites set up to nab these cyber scammers and the majority of the time they find that scams coming from North America and the UK are linked back to West Africa.

    Statistics are always warped, but when there is such a huge proportion of fraud emanating from a small corner of the world, you can understand why these companies are worried about trusting…

    My parents visited me in Ghana a few years ago and used their credit card at a 4 star hotel. The next day there were thousands of dollars of spending on the card. It is common. There is less legal control here, and people get away with it. Sadly.

    Not to say that the entire continent should be blacklisted! I absolutely can't stand it when I try to buy something online and I get that standard reply about these services not being available in 'your country', since they've picked up the Ghanaian IP…

    But what do you suggest as a better response from companies who do not want to risk the substantial losses??

  • Hi Erik – as a Canadian living in Ghana I can totally relate and I think it's sad. Blogged about this a while ago too –

    Unfortunately there is a cartel of young trainees across West Africa, with no job prospects, lining up at cyber cafes everywhere to try their hand a scamming.

    There are websites set up to nab these cyber scammers and the majority of the time they find that scams coming from North America and the UK are linked back to West Africa.

    Statistics are always warped, but when there is such a huge proportion of fraud emanating from a small corner of the world, you can understand why these companies are worried about trusting…

    My parents visited me in Ghana a few years ago and used their credit card at a 4 star hotel. The next day there were thousands of dollars of spending on the card. It is common. There is less legal control here, and people get away with it. Sadly.

    Not to say that the entire continent should be blacklisted! I absolutely can't stand it when I try to buy something online and I get that standard reply about these services not being available in 'your country', since they've picked up the Ghanaian IP…

    But what do you suggest as a better response from companies who do not want to risk the substantial losses??

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