They’re Not Hiring: The Army of Job Scammers Operating From Burkina Faso

A longread investigative feature that unmasks a nefarious job scheme mainly targeting Nigerians and other Africans through recruitment scams and pyramid schemes. But “Don’t Get Caught in a Pyramid Scheme”, Letitia James, New York State Attorney General cautions, noting that: “A pyramid scheme is a fraudulent system of making money based on recruiting an ever-increasing number of “investors.”

A nefarious job recruitment scheme mainly targeting Nigerians and other Africans is taking place just a flight time of about 1 hour 55 minutes from Nigeria. November 27, 2023’s X (formerly Twitter) post by Mr. Chinonso Charles set alarm bells ringing, prompting vigorous reactions from users of the micro-blogging platform.

The “IT Project Manager and Technology Enthusiast” had encountered something deeply troubling. Using the handle @ChinonsoCharl15, the X user wrote: “There is a big scam going on in Burkina Faso.” He added, “Nigerians are being recruited as if they are coming (sic) to work there; scammers collect all their money, claiming it’s for training, and convincing them to invite more people. This is a big scam, and many young Nigerians have already fallen victim to it. If you know about this, please share your experience.”

As Mr. Chinonso Charles had anticipated, his tweet generated a flurry of reactions from other concerned users who had something to say about the new business scheme a particular group of people were brandishing in Burkina Faso. The trick had snared not a few people, Nigerians and non-Nigerians alike.

At 6:56 pm, Charles’ post had generated 31,500 views, 162 reposts, 17 bookmarks, and 186 likes. The energetic response to the post was a clear indication that many desperate applicants had fallen for the alleged scam taking place in the West African country that has been in the news lately with Captain Ibrahim Traore, its new military ruler, displaying anti-French, anti-colonial, and pro-Russian sentiments. The country’s seemingly endless battles with Jihadists in the Sahel have also placed it in significant news headlines globally. And the post from Charles pushed Burkina Faso into X Nigerian timelines for the wrong reasons again.

And here is an assortment of responses to Mr. Chinonso Charles’ public cry:

It is helpful to note that the alarm raised by Chiononso Charles was an echo of an earlier whistle blown by one Uncle DejiTM, another X user. The job scams have festered for some time. And many applicants have suffered substantial financial losses.

On August 3, 2023, the handle @DejiAdesogan posted: “Burkina Faso Gold Mining Job Scam! Over 25 Nigerians Scammed.” Uncle DejiTM alleged that “there is a company named Qnet in Burkina Faso that disguises itself as Semafo Gold or Horizon Gold, they lie to be a gold mining company and need immigrants to come and work with good pay in dollars.” Again, the message was impactful, generating 12,200 views, 60 reposts, and two bookmarks.

The handle, @activeKolins, responded with graphic details about the advertised gold mining scheme, displaying what it had chatted to a friend in Burkina Faso. According to the account, the job phonies would require prospective applicants to have the following: “NIN plastic ID or NIN document (validated), 4 passport photographs, CV and Statement of Purpose, Work Permit, Resident Permit, Domiciliary Account for your salary, total amount for your documentation #750,000 including Transport down here.” See link: https://x.com/activeKolins/status/1687221596996423685?s=20

The alleged company in Uncle Deji’s post is in the know, fully aware that its respected name is being peddled in some disreputable circles. And they were quick to distance their business label from the purported gold mining scheme in Burkina Faso.

QNET Dissociates itself From Fake Job Offers

A January 19, 2023 report by Bertram Nwannekanma in The Guardian read: “QNET condemns fake job offers, pledges legal action in Nigeria.” The story said: “World’s leading international e-commerce-based direct selling company, QNET, has condemned actions by unscrupulous individuals defrauding public members by purporting to offer job opportunities on behalf of reputable brands such as Qnet.” It added: “QNET in a statement by Biram Fall, its Regional Manager for Sub-Sahara Africa, wholly disassociates itself from such representations and sincerely draws public attention to the fact that it never makes such representations.”

(Infographics: Assets courtesy of Canva)

Modus Operandi of the Alleged Scammers

Pared down to their skeletons, these deceptive job cartels operate like Pyramid Schemes, promising their initial victims more mouthwatering rewards and a higher place on the job ladder if they can convince other people to join them in Burkina Faso. But pyramid schemes are not allowed in a number of countries around the world. Notably, law enforcement authorities like the Office of the New York State Attorney General frown at Pyramid Schemes. See culled text:

“Article 23A of the General Business Law of the State of New York §359-fff sets forth the criminality of initiating and participating in pyramid schemes (also known as chain distributor schemes).

Pyramid schemes may or may not involve the sale of products or distributorships. The trend is to involve sales of products or distributorships in an attempt to show legitimacy. This is done solely to sidestep the regulatory agencies, as most state laws prohibit marketing practices where the potential for profit stems primarily from recruiting other investors and not from the sale of products. The bottom line, however, is that in all pyramid schemes, the selling of a product itself is much less important than the recruiting of new investors.”

“Don’t Get Caught in a Pyramid Scheme”, Letitia James, New York State Attorney General cautions, noting that: “A pyramid scheme is a fraudulent system of making money based on recruiting an ever-increasing number of “investors.” The initial promoters recruit investors, who in turn recruit more investors, and so on. The scheme is called a “pyramid” because at each level, the number of investors increases. The small group of initial promoters at the top require a large base of later investors to support the scheme by providing profits to the earlier investors. Pyramid schemes are illegal in New York State, as well as in many other states.”

An X user, T.Soprano, with the handle @PMSkukz, refers to the operations of the Burkina Faso-based recruitment group as a “REFER TO EARN” scheme. Keenly aware of the psychology of the imprisoned and helpless, these criminal masterminds prey on the intimacy their ensnared victims share with friends and family members, hoping that trusted connection will trigger overwhelming conviction, trapping more targets for their illicit operations. And it sometimes does, while at other times, it fails.

 “His travel needed 1.1M.”

An arm of the Burkina Faso-based operators of these reigning business schemes lures unsuspecting victims to their operations by posing as a solar production company needing workers, one X user revealed. Identifying as “Theonlyval” and posting from the handle @officialRichval, a concerned user wrote: “My jnr (junior) brother woke up one day and claimed he is (sic) going to Burkina Faso for solar production company. It took intervention of the Holy Spirit for him to believe it’s a scam after everything my family did to stop him. His travel needed 1.1m. Thank God for his life today.” See link: https://x.com/officialRichval/status/1729316386646753679?s=20

 “Security Alert: Faso Energy is not recruiting.”

Theonlyval’s brother had been presented with a letter supposedly from Faso Energy, a recognized renewable energy company in Burkina Faso. A letter dated August 25, 2023, partly worded in French, showed ten successful applicants were scheduled to attend a job interview on September 11, 2023. Faso Energy also offered “congratulations” to all the job seekers. Many jobless people from several countries may have fallen for the trick from the recruiters, prompting the real Faso Energy to issue a public statement clarifying that no such job offers advertised by recruiters were available at the company’s offices. 5 Nigerians, 2 Burkinabes, 1 Ivorian, 1 Senegalese, and 1 Beninese were listed in the congratulatory letter from, supposedly, Faso Energy.

But the whole picture gets twisted soon.

Faso Energy is not recruiting, a public letter says. The actual solar energy company, whose brand identity had been appropriated by mischievous elements, would distance itself from the advertised jobs many innocent people had been excited about. The firm was forced to issue a danger alert to members of the public in a desperate bid to protect its public image and business from the corroding effects of cheats masquerading as genuine employers of labor. The real Faso Energy sounded alarm bells about an existing group of impostors three weeks before the fake recruitment team sent its dubious letter to its snared victims.

Dated August 3, 2023, a “Faso Energy Team” distanced itself from the purported staffing exercise that had seemingly lured some applicants. The company was unambiguous in its response. It stated that it wasn’t involved in any employment exercise.

“We want to emphasize that Faso Energy is not recruiting.” The warning letter also added, “these fraudsters mislead candidates by falsely claiming that they must undergo interviews for employment opportunities at Faso Energy. They provide a postal address based in Bobo Dioulasso for this alleged selection process.”

We will return to the address and the letter’s schematic elements soon. There is an interesting connection between the letter about the gold mining scheme and that of the fake Faso Energy. We will notice something interesting if we look at them carefully.

The alleged enlistment team chose their correspondence address cleverly, perhaps to evade easy detection and inquiries from disbelieving applicants. The non-recruiting Faso Energy is headquartered in Burkina Faso’s capital city, in the “zone industrielle de Kossodo, Ouagadougou.” According to Travel Math, the capital city of Ouagadougou, in the center of Burkina Faso, is a driving distance of 235 miles/378 KM (6 hours, 15 minutes), a flying distance of 206 miles/331 KM from Bobo Dioulasso, southwest of the country, where the fraudsters run their operations from.

In his post, Theonlyval shared the letters from the fake recruiters and the real Faso Energy. See screenshots:

This writer contacted Faso Energy, asking if the company issued the statement flying in the public space. The aim was to inquire about steps taken to identify the alleged fake recruiters who were using the company’s brand identity and logo for their nefarious activities. Again, this reporter wanted to know if they had reported the impostors to law enforcement authorities. Had arrests been made? Of the company’s two publicly available email addresses, which were extracted from the website, www.fasoenergybf.com, the email message could only be delivered to one address, infos@fasoenergybf.comcontact@fasoenergyby.com was copied in the same message, but it wasn’t delivered. A response was not received from Faso Energy at the time of filing this report.

Some other persons needed to be contacted as well.

Faso Energy included “this fake email: fasoenergysolars@gmail.com” in its warning to the public. Posing as a prospective job seeker, this writer reached out with a “job inquiry” to the account. The electronic message is captured in the screenshot:

And the response that came in? None, as at the time of publishing this article.

A Nexus of Job Scams

But the solar energy deception is not the only scam festering in Burkina Faso. The West African country is battling a rising wave of Islamic Jihadists on one front while confronting a groundswell of job scams on the other corridor.

On September 6, 2023, BNN Breaking reported: “Burkina Faso’s Justice Ministry Alerts Public on Job Scam.” Segun Adewole’s report stated: “The ministry responsible for justice in Burkina Faso has distanced itself from a fraudulent job offer circulation on social media as of September 5. This misleading announcement pertains to the recruitment of justice professionals scheduled for training in Tunisia.”

What’s the Difference between Faso Energy and Semafo Gold’s Address?

Now, we return to letters and addresses. Solar and gold mining business models are being employed by this new army of scammers operating from Burkina Faso. Both masquerading fraudsters share the same postal address, “Burkina Faso 015 BP 1921 Bobo-Dioulasso, Bobo Sarfalo.” Again, both letters carry this exact French sentence: “Noms preselectionnes pour I’entretien et la reprise.” Translated, it means: “Preselected names for interview and resumption.”

Two deductions are possible here: it is the same set of people running both schemes. On the other hand, separate groups are operating out of the same shared physical address they have cleverly concealed by working with a postal address.

The listed business address is open to digital checks. The address came back as “address not verified” after a quick internet global address check at Melissa, a company providing “the global address check tool to instantly search, check & verify any global address.”

See Melissa’s X account: @melissadata.

Burkina Faso and Gold Mining

File:Ibrahim Traoré - 2023 (cropped).png

Burkina Faso’s Military Ruler,Captain Ibrahim Traore. (Image:Wikipedia)

Burkina Faso is not a rich country, ranking 184 out of 191 countries in the 2021-2022 HDI report of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). It is currently headlined by ruthless Jihadist threats around its eastern corridors and the early throes of military coups and civil crises. So, why are some people falling for the impractical talk about a gold mining rush taking place in a land hobbled by seemingly endless bloodletting? We can connect the dots.

The fake job providers operating from Burkina Faso chose their products carefully and cunningly, having realized that the country has an abundance of gold and solar energy.

On November 24, 2023, The East African reported: “Construction of Burkina Faso’s first gold refinery begins.” The story underlined that gold is Burkina Faso’s “main mineral resource” and the gold “project would create 100 direct jobs and 5,000 indirect jobs.”

Possibly, the scammers are exploiting the widely reported story about the availability of jobs in the new refinery to lure and manipulate genuine job seekers across West Africa and further afield. But they are still on the radar of security agencies and private investigators.

Some X users are divided about the nationality of the job scammers. Unless arrests are made, it will remain difficult to pinpoint the true identity of the job frauds in Burkina Faso.

On January 3, an email inquiring if an arrest had been made regarding the alleged fake recruiters was sent to a staff of Faso Energy, Mr. Abdoul Aziz Zonga, identified as a Maintenance Engineer on the company’s website. As in the earlier message sent to Faso Energy, this email message could not be delivered to zonga@fasoenergybf.com as the delivery report said, “no such user here.”

Outlook

A lax in internal security measures may be driving the operations of these fake job providers. A joint security effort spanning several West African countries is needed to tame this seemingly well-coordinated army of phony staffing companies. But Burkina Faso must take the lead. And unless law enforcement authorities in Burkina Faso apply the same level of significance they are using against the menace of Islamic Jihadists battling its country’s armed forces, they may not be able to stamp out the surging wave of job cheats taking root in the country.

Possibly, Captain Thomas Sankara, the late military ruler of Burkina Faso, is turning angrily in his grave. Repulsed with its French colonial identity, the revolutionary renamed the country from Upper Volta to its current name in 1984. The unfettered operations of these nefarious groups are bad for Burkina Faso’s business and diplomatic identity, more so as Burkina Faso means “land of honest people.”

Captain Thomas Sankara. (Image Credit: wikipedia)

Will these job frauds be nipped in the bud soon?

The Ministry of Justice in Burkina Faso, with the X handle @MJ_Burkina, was contacted for this story. See a copy of the email message, sent in both English and French, to the Ministry’s publicly available email address: secretariat.general@justice.gov.bf:

And the response that came in from the Ministry of Justice? None, as at the time of publishing this article.

The days ahead will reveal if Captain Ibrahim Traore and his people will apply the same commitment and frenzy they have displayed in public anti-French postures to battling the country’s newest social and economic headache.

But now is the time for law enforcement authorities to act before Burkina Faso becomes an undisputed and thriving haven for West Africa’s latest nefarious job recruitment rings.

Summary

TDS NEWS

TDS NEWS