These dangerous scammers don’t even bother to hide their crimes These dangerous scammers don’t even bother to hide their crimes
Most scammers and cybercriminals operate in the digital shadows and don’t want you to know how they make money. But that’s not the case... These dangerous scammers don’t even bother to hide their crimes

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Most scammers and cybercriminals operate in the digital shadows and don’t want you to know how they make money. But that’s not the case for the Yahoo Boys, a loose collective of young men in West Africa who are some of the web’s most prolific—and increasingly dangerous—scammers.

Thousands of people are members of dozens of Yahoo Boy groups operating across Facebook, WhatsApp, and Telegram, a WIRED analysis has found. The scammers, who deal in types of fraud that total hundreds of millions of dollars each year, also have dozens of accounts on TikTok, YouTube, and the document-sharing service Scribd that are getting thousands of views.

Inside the groups, there’s a hive of fraudulent activity with the cybercriminals often showing their faces and sharing ways to scam people with other members. They openly distribute scripts detailing how to blackmail people and how to run sextortion scams—that have driven people to take their own lives—sell albums with hundreds of photographs, and advertise fake social media accounts. Among the scams, they’re also using AI to create fake “nude” images of people and real-time deepfake video calls.

The Yahoo Boys don’t disguise their activity. Many groups use “Yahoo Boys” in their name as well as other related terms. WIRED’s analysis found 16 Yahoo Boys Facebook groups with almost 200,000 total members, a dozen WhatsApp channels, around 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, the companies do not allow content on their platforms that encourages or promotes criminal behavior. The majority of the Yahoo Boys accounts and groups WIRED identified were removed after we contacted the companies about the groups’ overt existence. Despite these removals, dozens more Yahoo Boys groups and accounts remain online.

“They’re not hiding under different names,” says Kathy Waters, the co-founder and executive director of the nonprofit Advocating Against Romance Scammers, which has tracked the Yahoo Boys for years. Waters says the social media companies are essentially providing the Yahoo Boys with “free office space” to organize and conduct their activities. “They’re selling scripts, selling photos, identifications of people, all online, all on the social media platforms,” she says. “Why these accounts still remain is beyond me.”

The Yahoo Boys aren’t a single, organized group. Instead, they’re a collection of thousands of scammers who work individually or in clusters. Often based in Nigeria, their name comes from formerly targeting users of Yahoo services, with links back to the Nigerian Prince email scams of old. Groups in West Africa can be often organized in various confraternities, which are cultish gangs.

“Yahoo is a set of knowledge that allows you to conduct scams,” says Gary Warner, the director of intelligence at DarkTower and director of the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Computer Forensics Research Laboratory. While there are different levels of sophistication of Yahoo Boys, Warner says, many simply operate from their phones. “Most of these threat actors are only using one device,” he says.

The Yahoo Boys run dozens of scams—from romance fraud to business email compromise. When making contact with potential victims, they’ll often “bomb” people by sending hundreds of messages to dating app accounts or Facebook profiles. “They will say anything they can in order to get the next dime in their pocket,” Waters says.

Searching for the Yahoo Boys on Facebook brings up two warnings: Both say the results may be linked to fraudulent activity, which isn’t allowed on the website. Clicking through the warnings reveals Yahoo Boy groups with thousands of members—one had more than 70,000.

Within the groups—alongside posts selling SIM cards and albums with hundreds of pictures—many of the scammers push people toward other messaging platforms such as Meta’s WhatsApp or Telegram. Here, the Yahoo Boys are at their most bold. Some groups and channels on the two platforms receive hundreds of posts per day and are part of their wider web 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 available to them to defraud people and constantly adapt to avoid getting caught,” says Al Tolan, a Meta spokesperson. They did not directly address the accounts that were removed or that they were easy to find. “Purposefully exploiting others for money is against our policies, and we take action when we become aware of it,” Tolan says. “We continue to invest in technology and cooperate with law enforcement so they can prosecute scammers. We also actively share tips on how people can protect themselves, their accounts, and avoid scams.”

Groups on Telegram were removed after WIRED messaged the company’s press office; however, the platform did not respond about why it had removed them.

Across all types of social media, Yahoo Boys scammers share “scripts” that they use to socially manipulate people—these can run to 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 scammer actually would have to go and think of something else to say,” says Ronnie Tokazowski, the chief fraud fighter at Intelligence for Good, which works with cybercrime victims. “It’s 100 percent how they’ll manipulate the people,” Tokazowski says.

Among the many scams, they pretend to be military officers, people offering “hookups,” the FBI, doctors, and people looking for love. One “good morning” script includes around a dozen messages the scammers can send to their targets. “In a world full of deceit and lies, I feel lucky when see the love in your eyes. Good morning,” one says. But things get much darker.

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