Duping In The Name Of Customs?

By Stephen Ubanna

When Ebere Chijoke, a graduate of Sociology , was  discharged  after the compulsory  one year  Nigeria Youth Service Corp, NYSC, programme, in 2015, she got  a teaching appointment  in a private secondary school in Lagos but turned it down.

Ebere major reason of turning it down was  because of her interest in Customs job. She told a friend: I like uniform job, particular Customs.  She was further  encouraged to search for appointment in Customs when she saw a school  friend who had secured a job in the Service, in 2015, through a family friend as a senior officer. The friend was said to have promised to help  him secure a place in the revenue generating agency as an insider, if she could be patient without being in hurry or seeing the Customs job as a do or die affair.  She made her to know that she is still young and good for job placement in Customs. As at then she was over 25 years old. But the age bracket for new officer or Customs Inspectors recruimentt in the Service was between18  and 35 years.

Given her  desperate desire to secure a job placement in the NCS  or nothing, she resorted to checking the Customs website daily to know when  the ban on recruitment would be lifted in order to apply . She was lucky as she saw one of such online advertisement  about Customs recruitment in 2017 with a payment of  non refundable deposit  of five thousand naira application fee in a private bank account and other subsequent payments  which run into thousands of naira if given a place in Customs. Ms. Chijoke fell for it  but it turned out that they were scammers. She was not alone. There were so many other desperate job seekers who fell into the hand of the scammers across the country.

Many had expected Chijoke to learn her lesson from the scammers tricks to dupe desperate Customs job seekers. hShe never did as she still fell victim to  them  recently. tThis time she was fleeced of over N500,000.00, with an advice to always check on a fake Customs web which was given to her to know when the result of the shortlisted   Candidates would be released. A Clergy man  from Cross river state who was desperate to find a Customs  job fora niece  using  his contacts both within and outside the Customs also fell victim to the antics of the scammers.

The Customs job racketeers, were said to be  using the name of popular Customs officers, both serving and retired  to perpetuate the fraud. The activities of the scammers  was said to have become so pronounced in the recent time that   Joseph Attah, a Deputy Comptroller and the Customs Spokesman at the instance of Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel and the Comptroller General   issued a disclaimer to the alleged recruitment exercise in Customs this year.

A Customs Computer Center
A Customs Computer Center

Attah was said to have made it clear to those that care to listen  that there is no planned ” mass recruitment  exercise in Customs” for now, urging desperate job seekers to be careful how they patronise scammers who hack into Customs  website to create the fake ”wwwcustomsrecruit.com.ng/vacancy.pdf”  to deceive and extort money from victims.

An aggrieved Attah revealed that on a daily basis, the Customs Headquarters had continued to receive ”complaints  from victims  of these fraudsters who had been” duped of various amounts running into millions of naira”’.

The  Customs Deputy Comptroller, who is acting on the mandate of Ali, the Comptroller General,  confirmed that the  ”fraudsters on prowl” across the country duping unsuspecting  desperate job seekers”. He was said to have assured Nigerians that the  ”legal recruitment  into the Service  will be made public through various advert placement in  national Newspapers and the electronic media. He further said that it would be published extensively  on the Customs official website:www.customs.gov.nig and its official facebook page:www.facebook.com/customsng.

For avoidance of doubt, he said the” Customs  application form for recruitment into the various cadres of Customs , from the Customs  Inspectors  to the officers rank is free of charge . Appealing to Nigerians   not to be deceived by these  dupers, who had  created the purported  Customs fake recruitment website  to request payment from victims before the forms are completed to be careful.

Many believe that the fraudsters could  not have been practising  their trade undetected  without the backing of insiders who had good knowledge of the Customs website operation and how to   fake it.  It would be recalled that there was a similar incident of job placement   in the Service  in  its portal   which generated much controversy, as many desperate job seekers were given fake appointment letters, forcing the National Assembly to intervene to save the situation from degenerating. The fraud was said to have been perpetuated by an insider , who was  said to have  relocated to the United States, with his loot which run into millions of naira.

Another area which the fraudsters  may have tried to rubbish the name of Customs was in the sales of auction of overtime cargoes. Investigation by the Magazine shows that the fraudsters,  use the names  and pictures of  both serving and retired  Customs officers to give the impression that  the buyers were dealing with genuine Customs officers ostensibly to fleece them. The fraudsters, according to a Customs source create the impression that they could ” use their position to facilitate  the process of  buyers  of overtime cargoes from Customs in getting the  allocation paper.

On May 9, 2018, in an alleged fake website,” http//www.businesslist.com.ng/ company/25841/nigeria customs service, the scammers had released a document  showing that the Nigeria Ports Authority, NPA, has” commenced the auctioning of vehicles on the directive  of the Federal government for 2017/2018”. The scammers had listed over 50 vehicles  ranging from Toyta Land CRuiser,  Toyota Prado Jeep,  Toyota Corolla, Toyota Camry, Toyota Avensis, Toyota Yaris, Toyota Venza, Toyota RAV4, SUV,  Toyota Hilus Pickup  to Ford and Suzuki for sales. The vehicles that listed for sales  were  said to  be between 199 and 2016 models. They had imputed a price range of between N250,000.00 and N1.1 on the vehicles depending on the brand and the year it was assembled in the car plant.

According to the scammers, the” vehicles were impounded due to smuggling  and improper documentation” which had  been forfeited to the government  as” penalty for the illegal act” and thus being auctioned.   Perhaps to win the confidence of the unsuspecting buyers,  that they are  genuine  Customs officers holding positions of trust in the Service , they fake officers irrespective of the rank. They wer said  to have faked  one Suleiman Ibrahim Iidris, a Deputy Comptroller General, tariff and Trade, now retired, in their dirty deal of May 9, 2018. they were said to have informed the unsuspecting Customer thats the vehicles to be auctioned  are” direct Belgium/Tokunbo and have never been used in Nigeria”, stating that   the  vehicles, listed for auctioning are currently   detained  at the Apapa  Command warehouse, ” awaiting  removal for,  clearance”.

Appealing to the unsuspecting  buyers to ” contact  Suleiman , the DCG, Trade and Tariff,  on his MTN line, 08035704223 , for further directive, they said ,  is for their own good as delay could result to forfeiture.

Unknown to them, DCG  Suleiman, had retired from the Service, thus making  their  case very worrisome.   Their stupidity, according  to a senior Customs officer became more pronounced , when They had described  Suleiman as  the ” Chief auctioneer officer”.

The scammers attempt on the May 9, 2018, attempt to fleece their  victims  may have turned out a bad day as they had used the name of Attah, the Customs image maker to sign the  alleged    fake auctions  sales paper on behalf of Ali, the Comptroller General. They got wrong as Ali, the Customs  boss had  automated the sales of overtime cargoes as  a way of blocking areas of loopholes  in the Service.

The scammers may have  further exposed their ignorance  on Customs operations when on Friday, June 22, 2018, one Paul Balogun  wrote on the Reporter’s timeline  about sales of ”replacement/Recruitment,  forms  , urging interested applicants to apply. The fraudster  was said advised applicants  to contact one ” Collins Adebayo, a Customs officer on 08100127091 for purchase of the form and clearance”.

Also, the fraudster claimed that he  has bags of ”50”kg  foreign parboiled rice at N8,500 per bag while the cost of delivery to the buyer is N1000.00 per bag. The contents  of the letter was not  quite different from the May 18, 2018 document on auction vehicles  sales which was  linked to NPA, by the dupers.

It was not surprising why  maritime analysts are asking the Customs Comptroller General to look inwards to track the perpetrators of these internet frauds using the name of  the Service to dupe desperate job seekers and overtime cargo buyers.

They feared that that this high wire fraud   which  became pronounced  in the Service between 2011 and now, would continue unless Ali apply tougher measures to deal with officers caught in internet fraud in the Service. They claimed that  most of the officers may have taken advantage of their Information Technology background and involvement  with their senior Colleagues trained at the World Customs Organisation, WCO, Brussels, to design the Customs Pre-Assessment Arrival  Report, PAAR,  form , for Customs release of cargoes to give out information on Customs website to close friends without knowing the implication.

These Customs Information Technology  trained officers  were said to be fully  involved in  stalling the  Customs software  at the Headquarters and the Commands for  Customs migration from  NC91 to 92, described as a more  sophisticated platform, expected  to reduce the level of contact between importers with their agents and Customs officers at the ports and land border areas. Attah, the Customs Spokesman, has made it clear to those that care to listen that  the internet fraudsters who are faking the Customs websites in order to dupe victims would be treated as criminals if caught in the act.

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