• Wednesday, April 24, 2024
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BusinessDay

Begging, fraud heighten as cost-of-living crisis deepens misery in households

Police arraign 6 for ‘defrauding’ accommodation seekers N16.62m

…Fraudsters now hack phones to solicit funds

Begging has become a big business in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, given the high number of people wallowing in abject poverty in the country as the present economic headwinds heighten.

The removal of petrol subsidy in 2023 and the persistent weakening of the naira have made inflation and commodity prices accelerate relentlessly, eating deep into people’s purchasing power and impoverishing many.

Today, people’s phones are being bombarded with ceaseless requests for financial support from families, friends, acquaintances and strangers. Even children, teenagers and traders also beg, which has become a ‘side hustle’ for many, a ‘full-time job’ for some or a necessity for survival.

Read also: CBN wants banks to automate transaction monitoring for fraud prevention

Everywhere one turns today on the street, one is besieged by an army of beggars who desperately ask for alms to survive the harsh economic weather.

Sunday Ezechi, a Lagos-based plumber, told BusinessDay Sunday that it has become a growing concern because bus stop to bus stop in Lagos has become home for jobless people who survive on begging.

‘Egbo mi, find me something, I never chop since morning or since yesterday,’ has become a familiar phrase on the streets of Lagos, Ezechi said.

“One pathetic incident happened last week at a store where I normally buy bread. A mother of two came to buy bread and asked the seller to give her N200 worth of bread to manage with her two children but it happened that the N200 bread that she used to buy now sells for N300 and she became stranded at that point.

“The woman begged the seller to consider selling the bread for N200 because she didn’t have N100 to make up. The situation was so touching for me because even the N300 bread could hardly feed two people and this moved me to buy N500 bread for them,” Ezechi said.

Nigeria’s food inflation grew to 35.41 percent in January 2024 on a year-on-year basis — 11.1 percent higher compared to 24.32 percent recorded in January 2023, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

The average annual food inflation rate for the 12 months ending January 2024 stood at 28.91 percent, which was 7.38 percent higher compared to the average annual rate recorded in January 2023, which stood at 21.53 percent.

The development has made prices of food items, including bread and others, surge even when the purchasing power of households continues to dwindle; no thanks to soaring inflation.

“If I tell you the number of requests I receive every week from relations and friends, you will marvel. A number of them are just to buy food to eat, some are for burial support while others are to either pay their children’s school fees or make up for house rent,” said Festus Odion, a civil servant.

Odion said he would run into trouble if he continued to attend to the volume of requests that he receives weekly because they are never-ending.

Nowadays, he said, one’s salary is difficult to pay the piling bills in the family, yet, one will still factor in the people around who depend on the help one renders to them to survive.

Bayo Shittu, a welder, told our correspondent that he only got to understand how the Nigerian economy has degenerated recently when a family man with children knocked on his gate last Wednesday to beg him for food.

According to him, the man told him that his children had not gone to school for days because of his inability to pay school fees and even lack of food for them to eat.

He said the man was practically crying due to the hardship the man’s family was passing through.

According to World Bank, Nigeria’s poverty rate rose from 40 percent in 2018 to 46 percent in 2023, as the number of poor people increased from 79 million to 104 million.

The World Bank further said that more people have fallen below the poverty line due to sluggish economic growth and rising inflation.

The bank said that the number of poor people in urban areas exposed to inflation — increased from 13 million to 20 million, while the number of poor people in rural areas rose to 84 million from 67 million within the same period.

Also on the increase are the activities of fraudsters, who hack into people’s mobile lines, using the same to solicit funds from those in the contact log of their victims.

The heightening economic hardship in Nigeria has created room for fraudsters to thrive as the number of people going into fraud, particularly those hacking people’s phones to gain access to their contact lists, has grown.

Two weeks ago, 43-year-old Adenike Sanni, a member of one of the popular Pentecostal churches in Lagos, had the awful experience.

It happened that several of her family members, friends and others on her contact list recently received a strange message where Sanni was soliciting N100,000 for them to cater for an immediate need.

According to Sanni, her phone was hacked by a fraudster, who not only took over her WhatsApp line but practically sent messages to every person on her contact lists telling the same story and begging for money.

Similarly, the Whatsapp account of Johnson Adesulu, a medical professional was recently hacked, and the fraudster sent out a message of him being stranded and begging people to help him with N50,000 which he promised to pay back once his bank app started functioning.

He said the same message was sent to practically every member in his Whatsapp group and it was someone who knows the wife that called her to ask why her husband had turned to a beggar, for him to realise that his account had been hacked.

How to protect your WhatsApp account from hackers

With the growing number of social media hackers who have turned themselves to beggars, one has to be extremely careful particularly now that people willingly or unwillingly find themselves in countless WhatsApp groups at work, church and other social meetings.

Do your two-step verification: two-step verification ensures that your account is not open to abuse. It puts an extra layer of security on your account.

Don’t share your six-digit activation code with folks: it has become important that you guard your six-digit WhatsApp code and not share it with people under any circumstances because it can enable the person to enter and abuse your account by using it to satisfy his or her crave.

Lock your account with biometrics or an access pin: to prevent these social hackers from having access to your WhatsApp account, it has become necessary that you put an access pin or biometric lock on your account.