Twenty-two-year-old Moses Omodamwen, who was a ‘Yahoo Boy’ and drug addict for three years in Benin City, Edo State, tells GODFREY GEORGE about his experience before and after his involvement in internet fraud
What led you into internet fraud?
It all began in 2018. I had just got into higher institution – Edo State Polytechnic. I left college in 2016 and after then, I went to learn graphic design. In 2017, I ventured into photography. At that time, my business was not doing well. Sometimes, I would do graphics for people and they would refuse to pay me. While in that situation, I was in need of money to do a lot of things as a young man. I saw my friends balling (enjoying), and I asked them to show me the way. They told me that I just needed to ‘hustle’. I didn’t know the meaning of that word. They just told me that if I ‘hustle’, I won’t need to be begging people for money. That was how the ‘game’ started for me. They told me about internet fraud, and because of my condition then, I had to buy into the idea. Before then, I used to do ‘editing’ for some of them to scam their ‘client’ (victims). You know the devil can be very tricky. So, he put the idea in my head that if I could do the editing for my guys and they are making it, what if I just do it for myself? So, they (friends) told me to come to them for ‘capturing’.
What was the first day like as a newbie in internet fraud?
It was like me in another life, honestly. I grew up in a deeply religious home. My father was a pastor. So, I did not lack good training. It was so much like I was the opposite of myself. But I needed the money. I felt like a fish out of water. I had to undergo some kind of training to learn the processes involved in the ‘business’. When I got there that morning, they told me to give them an Instagram account which would be used for the fraud. I gave them mine. They edited it and made it look like that of a white woman. The first day was basically orientation for me. But as the days went by, they taught me the act of impersonating people. They would use someone else’s picture, edit the account and begin the scam. So, when you communicate with a ‘client’, he would feel like he (client) talking to one celebrity or investor. So, they taught me the ‘investor scam’ where we promise people to double their money in 24 hours.
After a while, I began to feel somehow uncomfortable because I was combining my photography and graphic designing with the ‘trade’. So, I wasn’t fully into it at that time. It was tough for me juggling all these things.
Did you not make money from the frauds?
I did make some money, but it was tough. It was when I graduated from my Ordinary National Diploma in 2021 that I entered fully into the fraud. It was tough.
What made it so tough? Were there odd things you had to do?
It was tough because I went through sleepless nights, and I was also introduced to drugs. It is hard to be a ‘Yahoo Boy’ and not be into drugs. Drugs, for me then, were like fuel that kept me moving. It was tough because it was not who I was. I became depressed because I was making money, but I was not fulfilled. I would work for many sleepless nights but there was no result to show for it. When the so-called result finally came, it was with a lot of pressure. There was so much competition among us. I wanted to be a ‘bigger boy’. With the little I got, I wanted more. It made me to start doing some funny things that were not right. Drugs came in very handy here. That was how it was till Christ came for me.
Did you try to get a job with your certificate, or you totally abandoned it for internet fraud?
I worked as a freelancer. I had my laptop that I was using to work. But jobs did not come as often as I wanted them to, and it was kind of depressing. The demand for graphics in Benin is very low. When clients brought jobs to me and I told them my charge, they would want to split it or give it to other people who could do it for cheaper rates. I was trying to balance the two, but I just had to go full into fraud. The first time, I got a huge amount of money that I would have to do graphics for like six months before I’d get it. So, I abandoned my skills and certificate for fraud, but I thank God I am trying to pick everything back together.
Fraud money is one that comes ‘once in a while’ (in bits). Sometimes, it comes daily. I remember there was a time. I almost got it big, but we couldn’t pull the ‘deal’ off. It would have earned me $206,000 (N89.06m). I thank God now that it didn’t work. If it worked, it would have been hard for me to come out of the fraud business. It would have been difficult.
But what was the highest pay-off you got from fraud?
I have been paid $2,000 (N864,740). I also got $300 (N129,711), $500 (N216,185). But the truth is that what the devil gives to you, it will take back from you. That is what I keep telling people. It didn’t take long before I squandered all the money.
Were your parents aware of the ‘job’ you did?
I lost my dad last year. So, it was just my mum. Whenever I returned from school on holidays, I go to my friend’s home and just stay there with them. I think she was aware because she spoke to me about it once, but I dismissed it. I had made up my mind to make money by all means. The pressure was really difficult. The day she found out I now smoked, she cried that night and refused to sleep. She was devastated and it was not a good experience.
Did she accept money from you at this time?
My mom has her business. So, any money I made from fraud, I kept for my upkeep and planned one or two things for my future. So, it was not every time I used to send her money.
Was there a time you almost got caught by the authorities?
When you go into crime, you should have in mind that you will definitely be caught. Many times, we were arrested by the Edo State Police Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department. It is normal. The prayer then was that whenever we got arrested, we should have money. We always ‘settle’ them. It is simple. There was a time the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission came to raid Benin, and we had to ‘go off the grid’ (lay low) for a while before they would arrest us.
When did you accept Christ? How did it happen?
In December 2021, I left where my friends were and came back home to see my mum. I didn’t know what was just calling me towards home, but I just felt the need to see my mum. A pastor who I respect called me and prayed for me. I had stopped attending church service for over six months. I did not want to be a hypocrite. Whenever I visited church, they (congregation) would want me to sing because I have a good voice, but I just didn’t want to be a two-faced knife. So, I quit church to face fraud. I knew what I was doing was not good – dining with the devil and singing for the Lord. Therefore, I had to choose a side.
But that December, as I returned home for the End-of-Year break, I resumed church. The pastor would call me at the end of every service and pray for me. I had good mentorship. I saw myself getting so interested in the things of God. I began to love the things of God again as I used to before the whole internet fraud saga.
On May 11, 2021, I went to a birthday party. We had lodged in an apartment after the party, and I walked off to the balcony of the hotel to sit alone and smoke. I just wanted to be alone. I felt the urge to just stay in my own space. That was the day I had an encounter with Christ. It was as though someone was seated by my side, telling me about my past and how I was wasting my youth. I just saw myself crying. That night, I knew something happened to me. The urge for smoking just died. I had to go inside to pick up a stick of weed (marijuana) to smoke but the entire pack fell off my hands and poured away. I felt irritated seeing the content on the floor. I called my pastor and told him what had happened, and he was so thankful. That was when I knew my family never gave up on me. They kept praying. My mum, grandmother and pastor kept praying for me even while I was deep in fraud. I felt so guilty with all the things I had done with my life. I am just 22; God really helped me.
People will wonder how in a space of five months or less, you are now a pastor with an apostolic title. How did it happen?
I didn’t just become a pastor. I continued my father’s legacy. I knew I had the call of God in my life. He has been helping me so far.
Did you undergo any training or courses?
Of course, I did. I was actually ordained last month as an Apostle. I am currently the pastor of the Refiners Fire Bible Church, Benin City, Edo State.
What was the reaction from your friends when they learnt of this?
The day I left them on May 11, I wanted to change my number, but I consistently heard a voice that told me to keep the number because I was the only channel with which my friends would come to the knowledge of Christ. My friends called me the day I made a post that I called it quits. I made a video of me packing out some documents and other ‘tools’ outside to burn them. When I posted it, I counted four of my friends who also called it quits that day with me. One of them said, “If you Moses can change, then I can.”
Were you that bad?
I almost turned into a junkie. The drug intake was bad. Some also called to tell me how miserable my life will be, leaving my source of survival. The book of Matthew Chapter 6, Verse 24-26 talks about how God cares for the birds of the air. I know God will take care of me.
Don’t you feel guilty about the things you have done and the lives of people you defrauded?
I used to feel very guilty at first. For almost a month, I found it hard to sleep. I kept asking myself what in hell I was doing with that kind of life. It was frustrating and it was eating me up. I thought of the pain I caused my mum and the many people I scammed. I felt guilty, but presently, I am good now because God told me that he had not condemned me. I am saved to save others. It is now my responsibility to win souls of these fraudsters back to Christ.
What advice do you have for people who are still deep into internet fraud or are contemplating the option?
Fraud is not an option. Anything the devil gives you, he takes 10 other valuable things from you. They ought to retrace their steps and come back to their senses and God is ever willing to forgive them.
Are you not scared that with this revelation, the authorities may come for you?
Honestly, I am not scared. I want to use this avenue to preach the gospel. I regret all my actions and have repented of them, but if the EFCC or police come for me, so be it. It is the price I have to pay for the gospel.