Between Paris and Abidjan, the difficult hunt for “grazers”, these Ivorian cyber-scammers

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This is a message that millions of French people have received in recent months: ” You have committed the offence, after being targeted on the Internet, viewing videos of a child pornography nature, naked photos/videos of minors have been recorded by our cyber gendarme and constitute proof of your offence. The text, attributed to the Brigade for the Protection of Minors (BPM), is signed and stamped by the national gendarmerie or the French national police and by Catherine De Bolle, the president of Europol, the European criminal police agency.

This malicious email and other fake legal summonses of the same kind, which sometimes betray spelling mistakes, clumsiness of style and errors in the name of services or authorities, have been circulating on the web since the end of 2020. This scam would have experienced an upsurge during the summer of 2021, according to the French authorities, and even an explosion in September of that same year.

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According to our information, several investigations by the cybercrime section of the Paris public prosecutor’s office have been opened concerning the various spam campaigns. The newspaper The Parisian revealed in February that one of them, opened in March 2020, had made it possible to collect more than 120 complaints for damages of more than 1.1 million euros in France. In fact, the usurpers generally demand from their targets fines of several tens of thousands of euros under penalty of seeing the accusations of child pornography revealed. “to the media and relatives”. Worse, several victims would have committed suicide or would have tried to do so.

Scams 2.0

Who is behind these cyber scams? In early 2021, French investigators began to take a serious interest in Côte d’Ivoire. There operate those who are called “grazers”, in reference to the sheep that forage without making an effort. A phenomenon that first emerged in Nigeria in the early 2000s, with the arrival of the Internet, before gradually spreading to Abidjan, the Ivorian economic capital. Now, grazers are scattered across the country, particularly in Soubré and Divo (south), two medium-sized towns located in regions rich in agricultural products and where a lot of cash circulates.

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