These dangerous fraudsters don’t even bother to hide their crimes

Benjamin Franklin's portrait holding a hundred dollar bill peeks out from behind brown torn paper

Most scammers and cybercriminals operate in the digital shadows and don’t want you to know how they make money. But that is not the case Yahoo guysa loose group of young men in West Africa who are among the most prolific – and increasingly dangerous – fraudsters on the Internet.

Thousands of people are members of dozens of Yahoo Boy groups active on Facebook, WhatsApp and Telegram, according to a WIRED analysis. The scammers who engage in such types of fraud Hundreds of millions of dollars in total Additionally, they have dozens of accounts on TikTok, YouTube, and the document-sharing service Scribd that rack up thousands of views each year.

Fraudulent activities are rampant within the groups, with cybercriminals often showing their faces and telling other members how to commit fraud. They openly distribute scripts that detail how to blackmail people and how to run away Sextortion Scams— that have driven people to take their own lives — are selling albums containing hundreds of photos and promoting fake social media accounts. Among the scams, they also use AI to create fake “nude pictures” of people Real-time deepfake video calls.

The Yahoo Boys don’t hide their activities. Many groups use “Yahoo Boys” in their name as well as other related terms. WIRED’s analysis found 16 Yahoo Boys Facebook groups with a total of nearly 200,000 members, a dozen WhatsApp channels, about 10 Telegram channels, 20 TikTok accounts, a dozen YouTube accounts and more than 80 scripts on Scribd. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Broadly speaking, the companies do not allow content on their platforms that promotes or encourages criminal behavior. The majority of Yahoo Boys accounts and groups identified by WIRED were removed after we contacted the companies about the groups’ apparent existence. Despite these removals, dozens more Yahoo Boys groups and accounts remain online.

“They don’t hide under different names,” says Kathy Waters, the nonprofit’s co-founder and executive director Standing up against love fraudsters, which has haunted the Yahoo Boys for years. Waters says the social media companies essentially provide the Yahoo Boys with “free office space” to organize and conduct their activities. “They sell scripts, photos and character identification, all online, all on social media platforms,” she says. “Why these accounts still exist is a mystery to me.”

The Yahoo Boys are not a single, organized group. Instead, it is a collection of thousands of scammers working individually or in groups. Her name often comes from Nigeria was previously aimed at users of Yahoo services, with links back to the old Nigerian Prince email scams. Groups in West Africa can often be organized into various brotherhoods Cult gangs.

“Yahoo is a wealth of knowledge that allows you to carry out scams,” said Gary Warner, director of intelligence at DarkTower and director of the Computer Forensics Research Laboratory at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. According to Warner, while there are different levels of Yahoo Boys sophistication, many simply use their phone. “Most of these threat actors only use one device,” he says.

The Yahoo Boys run dozens of scams – from romance scams to Business email compromise. When contacting potential victims, they often “bombard” people by sending hundreds of messages to dating app accounts or Facebook profiles. “They will say anything they can to get the next penny in their pocket,” Waters says.

When you search for the Yahoo Boys on Facebook, two warnings appear: both state that the results may be linked to fraudulent activity that is not allowed on the site. If you click through the alerts, you’ll discover Yahoo Boy groups with thousands of members – one of which had more than 70,000.

Within the groups – alongside posts selling SIM cards and albums containing hundreds of images – many of the scammers push people to other messaging platforms such as Meta’s WhatsApp or Telegram. This is where the Yahoo Boys are at their bravest. Some groups and channels on the two platforms receive hundreds of posts daily and are part of their larger network of operations.

After WIRED asked Facebook about the 16 groups we identified, the company removed them and some WhatsApp groups were deactivated. “Scammers use every platform at their disposal to defraud people and are constantly adapting to avoid getting caught,” said Al Tolan, a Meta spokesperson. They did not directly address the accounts that were removed or were easily found. “The deliberate exploitation of others for money is against our policies, and we take action when we become aware of it,” Tolan said. “We continue to invest in technology and cooperate with law enforcement to help them prosecute fraudsters. We also actively provide tips on how people can protect themselves and their accounts and avoid fraud.”

Groups on Telegram were removed after WIRED notified the company’s press office; However, the platform did not respond to the reasons for the removal.

Across all types of social media, Yahoo Boys scammers share “scripts” that they use to socially manipulate people. These can be thousands of words long and can be copied and pasted to different victims. Many have been online for years. “I’ve seen some scripts that are 30 and 60 layers deep before the fraudster actually has to think of something else to say,” says Ronnie Tokazowski, chief fraud fighter at Intelligence for Good, which works with cybercrime victims. “It’s 100 percent how they manipulate people,” Tokazowski says.

Among the many scams, they pose as military officers, people offering “contacts,” the FBI, doctors, and people looking for love. A “Good Morning” script includes about a dozen messages that scammers can send to their targets. “In a world full of deceit and lies, I feel happy when I see the love in your eyes. Good morning,” says one. But it gets much darker.

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