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Facebook scammers propose ‘marriage of convenience’ for Canadian citizenship to swindle unsuspecting Nigerians

The cash crunch that drained Nigeria’s economy by N20 trillion, according to the Centre for Promotion of Private Enterprise (CPPE), was the last straw for Omotoke* (not real name), who started to consider migrating abroad permanently. She said anywhere would work, “so far as it’s no longer Nigeria because [she] was tired at that stage.”
As if Facebook read her mind, she said she started seeing sponsored ads about how she could travel to Canada and what to take note of. One of the ads said one could become a Canadian citizen by marriage and get an instant visa. She followed through with the ad and connected with one Facebook name she no longer remembered. Her eyes were already welling up at this stage.

“I coughed out about $1,750 (N1,298,500 or N742/$ parallel market on April 18, 2023) to this guy for the process. He didn’t collect it at a go; it was in batches. We dragged it from January to April 18 when it finally dawned on me that I had become a cash cow for him. He blocked me afterwards. Our conversations were entirely on Facebook because he didn’t want to give out his contact.”

Many Nigerians migrate or ‘Japa’ –a Yoruba term that means ‘Escape’- because of the country’s economic hardship and unfavourable state of living. Among the diverse options readily accessible, Canada is the most sought-after.

According to the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), 5,755 Nigerians gained Permanent Resident status in 2023’s first quarter alone, a 32.5% increase from the previous year at 4,345. About 15,595 Nigerians had moved to Canada in 2021. By the following year, the statistics rose by 41.9% to 22,130.

In a 2020 survey carried out by the Africa Polling Institute (API) on 772 respondents who had migrated (120 or 15.5%) or are considering migrating to Canada (652 or 84.7%), 75% chose greener pasture as a core reason for their choice while 55% moved to provide a better future for their children. 

Indeed, Canada became a canaanland for young immigrants due to the government’s Express Entry programme that started in 2015 to reduce the proportion of senior citizens in the North American country. The programme eased access for immigrants to become permanent residents, provided they were skilled enough to earn points for eligibility. According to Worldometer (a data aggregation website), Canada’s median age is 40.6 as of Oct. 2023. In contrast, Nigeria’s median age is 17.2.

An offer that glitters

To manoeuvre the Facebook algorithm, DUBAWA specifically searched for Canadian visa applications. We found many, like here and here.
Meanwhile, such sponsored ads contravene Meta’s advertising rules under “Unacceptable Business Practices.” An overview of the policy revealed that “Advertisers can’t run ads that promote products, services, schemes, or offers that use identified deceptive or misleading practices, including scams to take money from people or access personal information. We do this to protect people from being taken advantage of by advertisers.”

We read through the comments and found some users who informed the interested persons to send them in boxes on Facebook. Among them were the users named Sam Charles and Barbs Opez Awolowo.
Typical of fraudulent moves, he attempted to hurry his prey into making the hasty payment, with the assurance that there would be no need for any further payment, even though he had previously said the payment would open the path to the next stage, which is expected to come at a cost.

After begging him to consider the economic situation, we negotiated over the estimate of $500 to N500,000, and he compromised. The discussion ended for the day.

Barely 48 hours later, DUBAWA contacted him again to inform him that we’d raised about $300 or N300,000 for the form. He revealed that the money should be sent to his ‘manager’ with the account number 8066183676 on Opay mobile bank.

When we checked for the bank details, his full name was Opeyemi Peter Babalola. The name agrees with his usernames on Facebook: Opez (Opeyemi) and Barbs (Babalola).

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