The scorching sun was blazing uncomfortably at almost 75 degrees Celsius with the strong warm wind intermittently blowing the desert sand all over which could be visibly seen from outside. It was a bright Tuesday afternoon in July 2018, with the DXB Airport in Dubai, United Arab Emirates filled to the brim with passengers from all over the world who have disembarked from their various flights. Some of the passengers were the usual tourists, others were traders who had come to the country to buy goods and sell whilst some were also on business trips.
I was in the United Arab Emirates to visit a friend whom we had previously met during my first time in the country in 2017. After going through the arrival formalities, I sat on one of the designated seats at the arrival hall waiting for my host to pick me up.
As I sat on the chair leisurely surfing the internet on my phone with the free wifi, I could hear some five boys talking; they were speaking in my native Ghanaian language which is “Asante Twi” so I paid attention listening to what they were saying though I pretended I did not understand the dialect.
The boys namely Mark Owusu aged 18, John Asamoah 17, Albert Mensah 19, Ali Abubakar 15, and Kofi Oteng Oduro 17, were from the mining town of Obuasi in the Ashanti Region of Ghana which has over the years produced many talented footballers such as former Ghana Black Stars skipper John Mensah, 2009 Under 20 World Cup winner and current captain of Columbus Crew Jonathan Mensah and a host of others.
Their discussions were simple, they were Division 2 footballers from Obuasi in Ghana and a supposed agent they had met online has promised them a deal with Al Ain football club where Ghana legend Asamoah Gyan made his fortune and has collected each of them $7000 of which their parents went for loan from the bank to pay. The agent prepared a fake contract from Al Ain for them to sign after which he collected them the money and got them the visa but after arrival, it has been sixteen long hours and the contact number of the said agent is switched off and they are stranded.
As a Good Samaritan, and seeing my countrymen, when my host picked me up, I told him about the boys and he asked them to join us so that we can all go home, have a rest and see the way forward. It was at this juncture that my host told me that this is what is currently going on in the United Arab Emirates as each day you can find at least 100 young footballers from various African countries who are left stranded at the DXB Airport in Dubai as they have been duped by these fake agents.
The five boys stayed with us for one week as they called their parents back home to tell them what had happened. The aggrieved parents had no alternative than to spend money again to buy return tickets for them to get back to Ghana. Huge sums of money have been lost in a split of an eye and the most agonizing part is that the parents of the boys who had high hopes will now have to cough the money they took from the bank and pay back.
Fake agents are undoubtedly taking advantage of susceptible footballers across the globe particularly from Africa where the dream of every local footballer is to move away from his native land and play in a foreign continent. These fake agents force many young hopefuls into paying an upfront fee for a trial or a straight deal with clubs mostly in UAE, a country situated in the Arabian Peninsula which is noted for its high-rising buildings and desert safaris since their visa acquisition is very easy.
Of course, these trials never take place and the straight contracts they sign prior to their departure from their countries after the agent has collected huge sums of money and secured them the Electronic visa turns out to be fake.
As I returned to Ghana after my visit to the UAE, I spoke to the five boys from Obuasi and they told me they have ultimately given up football following the trauma they and their parents went through so I decided to take it upon myself to delve deep and investigate this whole issue of African local footballers being scammed into the United Arab Emirates and how this menacing issue could be combated.
Football is not rewarding in Sub-Saharan Africa with players earning less to virtually no salary at all and they tend to jump on the boat when any supposing opportunity comes for them to move abroad without even thinking twice. In the Ghana Premier League which is the country’s topflight, the average salary of a footballer for a month is GHC 500 which is less than $100 where as in the Division 1 and Division 2, about 90 percent of the teams do not pay salaries at all since they do not charge gate fees and the competition has no sponsorship also.
In this digital era, almost all young people are on social media especially Facebook and this is one of the areas that unsuspecting fake agents and criminals turn to get their victims to scam. They operate as a well knitted syndicate and start by forming football agents Groups on Facebook. They pay money to Facebook for their page to be boosted with people and this helps them to go on with their well-planned modus operandi.
Many of these criminal’s take names which appear on FIFA’s website as officially license player agents and they are able to scam these young African players with fake certificates. They provide telephone numbers from the country they lie to be in but a cursory search on Google with the telephone number provided shows a lottery scam which gestated from places such as Nigeria as well as Ghana and has fraudulent history.
Samuel Pimpong is a very talented footballer. I witnessed his development, I was there when they promoted the youngster from the youth team of Ghana Premier League side Dreams FC to the senior team in 2017. The fleet-footed 21-year old winger has always dazzled with his amazing skills down the flanks and never hidden his intentions of playing abroad.
Following the expiration of his contract with Dreams FC in 2020 and his subsequent release from the club, he sought my advice as a sports journalist who has been to the United Arab Emirates before as someone has promised him a supposed mega deal in that country.
“Senior Edmund, I need your advice, someone wants to send me to the United Arab Emirates for a good deal and my manager is ready to pay for any cost involved. How is the place and how is football there?” These were the exact words Pimpong asked me and I told him that no professional team in the United Arab Emirates will sign a young player directly from Africa so he should be very wary or else he can earn up being duped.
Apparently, the pressure which was coming from the supposed agent to take him to UAE was too much and at the end, his manager paid the said amount and the agent secured the visa for him. He arrived at the DXB and he was taken to the said club, but to his dismay, it was not a professional club as the agent has stated but rather it was an Amateur club which features in an Expatriate League and there was no salary also.
“Senior Edmund, the club is not a professional club; the agent did not tell us the truth. It is an Amateur club in an expatriate League and all that you said is true. I will be glad if you know someone here who can help me get a professional club because they don’t pay us.” A dejected Pimpong told me.
Seemingly, that is not the end of the scamming, the African players who are even lucky not to be left stranded at the DXB Airport but are taking to these amateur clubs have huge uncertainties hanging around their neck. They are promised resident permits as part of the package by the agent as they enter the country with a three months visa. After one month, the supposed agent disappears and the amateur clubs tell these African players that they cannot do resident permits for them and they have to do their own permit to stay in the country before their visa expires.
These players are made to pay extra money for the training kits they are issued by these clubs for their training whereas sometimes they make them pay money to even feature in friendly games with the club.
Stanislav Ngog is also another African player from Cameroon who is in the United Arab Emirates after being scammed by a supposed agent from Nigeria. The 19-year-old 6 feet 6 inches giant central defender told me on Facebook that a Nigerian agent took 6000 US Dollars from him after he came into contact with him on Instagram and promised him a deal with Al Jazira in Abu Dhabi.
Ngog who was visibly in tears stated that what the agent told him entirely were lies and after bringing him to an amateur team under the pretext of moving him to Al Jazira in the next transfer window which is few months away, the agent has vanished into thin air with all his numbers out of coverage area. The amateur club told him the man just brought him there for open trials and they don’t even know him.
As a matter of fact, there seem to be lots of African footballers in the United Arab especially from Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Gambia and others who are in such predicament. Several are in jail because they came with a one way ticket and after being duped, they cannot return back and over stay catches them. They are not able to pay the fine and they end up in prison.
The problem is gradually getting out of hand and it is about time measures are being put into place and local African players are educated about these fake agents and deals in the United Arab Emirates.
Firstly, most local players on the African continent are very naïve and they turn to fall prey to these scammers. A player must be able to detect if someone is a correct agent or not. About 90 percent of these fake agents after talking to their victims will send emails like this:
You will have to send your football CV and your international passport too and we will send it to the club. You can attach it to me now. Our agency is one of the best in the UAE. We’ve many helped players from Africa to be signed by clubs including
1. Al Ahli Dubai.
2. Al Ain
3. Al Jazira
4. Al Shabab
5. Al Nasr
Our Agency will relocate you to the venue of the Trials Including Your Airline Ticket, Accommodation and feeding all though your stay in the Camp will be covered. You have to pay $6000 if you want only trials and $7000 for a straight deal as we work with the clubs.
However, for the trials players dropped will be compensated with one-third of the amount and they will return to their home countries with a return ticket from the agency, we also don’t want people to abuse this medium and use it as an opportunity.
The time is limited so act fast if you really want to move.
This is a typical email from a scam agent and is time local African footballers get to know the trick and how these fraudulent people operate. Mostly such emails are laced with poor subject-verb agreement, numerous spelling mistakes and punctuation miscues which should be recognizable even to untrained eyes.
Although victims whose mother tongue is not English may find it difficult to notice, they could as well seek an English reader for clarification and verification.
Moreover, the United Arab Emirates immigration at the DXB Airport should be very strict. They must vigorously interrogate young guys especially from Sub-Saharan Africa who enter the country claiming they are going to play football in order to stop these scammers from operating. They should ask the supposed players to produce letters from their National Football Association as some of the boys are even too young to travel to play football abroad per the FIFA laws.
Furthermore, local African footballers should know that no professional team in UAE will sign an unknown African player direct from Africa. The African players they have signed in recent years including Asamoah Gyan and others were all big names who had made it big in Europe and at the world stage.
Relatively, scamming has now turned into a lucrative business in Africa and many young guys see it as the perfect and easiest way to make money overnight. The act of scamming did not start now and currently people especially in Sub-Saharan Africa are gradually fleeing from the old type of scamming on the internet which is based on usually a pretentious love affair with the African using female names and pictures to scam interested guys in Europe, America and others to send them money to a more easier way which is football.
I managed to speak to Emeka Ifeanyi, a certified Nigerian scammer based in the affluent Accra environs of East Legon in Ghana. A friend linked me to him when I wanted to interview someone in the scamming business on the issue at hand. At first, Ifeanyi who owns a four bedroom apartment and three saloon cars plus one Jeep did not want to open up to me but when he was convinced that I was just using it for my project, he obliged and spoke to me.
“Look, no one just stand up and gets into this business, we are also human beings and we have feelings but someone did to us and we also have to do to others.” Ifeanyi who was in a Newcastle track suit and claims to be a fan emphasized to me.
“My fellow African brother scammed me, that is why I even got to Ghana. I am a graduate from the University of Abuja. I also play football, my dream was to be a Chemical Engineer and use football as a part time job. I was going to Greece, the supposed agent scammed me, I lost everything so I decided to settle in Ghana and also start scamming others as revenge. I don’t scam white people because no white person has done anything bad to me. I only scam my fellow Africans. I have been in this business for eleven years and I have acquired a lot.”
“Now, the easiest way to scam Africans is posing as a football agent on the internet. Your chances to succeed are 95 percent because there are many desperate footballers around who wants to travel so that is what I am into. I have good network, I have some of the members of my team in United Arab Emirates, Turkey and other places so it makes things very easier. I also have Graphic Designers who design the fake contracts and invite for the players. We just take the logo of the club’s from google and design something nice and catchy with good terminologies to get them.” An unashamed Ifeanyi boasted.
The problem of local African players being scammed into the United Arab Emirates is at such an alarming rate and it needs urgent attention. As Ifeanyi stated, it is a cycle and it is not going to end now. Aside the United Arab Emirates, many African players are being also scammed by agents to other Asian countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and others with some even losing their lives out of shock.
Yes!! These scammers promise to take local African players to “Paradise” but they end up in a “Paradise” which never was and it is about time we stand up and fight such nefarious activities.