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The Babalawo Scam

You receive a call from a number that is not on your contact list. The caller on the other end introduces himself and asks you to check your text messages, that he accidentally sent you a recharge pin meant for someone else. You check your inbox, and sure enough, you see a message similar to  below:

He then asks you to forward the message to the person he originally intended to receive it. Once the message is forwarded, you receive a call from the number you forwarded it to, thanking you for being such an honest Nigerian. The caller is a native witch doctor or what we refer to as a Babalawo, and the credit was meant for his son. He then begins to utter an incantation and tells you he has seen a lot of problems in your office, business or family and that he can help. But first, you need to send money to perform various rituals or sacrifices.

From here on the situation snowballs into an escalation enticement, the number of requests and their frequency keeps increasing. This scam is particularly effective because it uses a very potent psychological technique: compliance with authority. Compliance to Authority is backed up by the famous Milgram experiment which showed that people could go to frightening lengths when ordered by an authority figure.

The Authority figure here is the native doctor. While much of Nigerians claim to be Christian or Muslims, a lot of them still subscribe to the efficacy of African traditional religions. Devotees or representatives of these traditional deities are often seen as possessing supernatural powers and strike fear in the hearts of non-adherents.  Fear of the Supernatural is a very strong emotion, which can interfere with proper decision making or right thinking and make victims take actions which are not in their best interest.

Scammer and fraudsters knowing the high regard to which Nigerians hold these African Traditional Religion practitioners have begun to impersonate them. The above scam and certain other variations have seen a resurgence and some months back we all witnessed the viral video of the Osun Lawmaker caught bathing in public, only to discover he was a victim of fraudsters posing as native doctors.

The key to spotting this scam as well as others is to have a sceptical mind. Be always suspicious, and vet everything before acceptance. Looking at the text messages above, you’d notice that often times the recharge card pin is a fake. If the claim of the first caller was real, then why would he send a fake pin to the son of a native doctor? But the most important indicator that this is a scam is in the request to forward the message. The caller already has a copy of the pin or the sent message in his sent items, so why does he need you to forward the message to someone else?

In conclusion and to reiterate, always exercise critical thinking and be suspicious to avoid being a victim of such scams.

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