Nigerian scam tops list of decade's online cons

Notices of winning the lottery and requests from Russian women who want to know you better are also up there on Panda Security's ranking of decade's top Net swindles.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
3 min read

We've all received e-mails from deposed Nigerian princes asking for help in getting lots of money out of their country. But that's just one of several scams that made Panda Security's list of the most frequent online cons of a decade.

As 2010 starts to wind down, the security vendor on Thursday unveiled its rankings of the most widespread Internet scams from the past 10 years. Though the cons themselves may vary, the pattern is typically the same, according to Panda. Cybercriminals initially contact their victims through e-mail or a social network, asking them to respond back by e-mail, phone, fax, or some other means. The crooks will then try to gain the trust of anyone who swallows the bait, eventually finding some excuse to request money.

The seven scams ranked by Panda included the Nigerian con at the top followed by a variety of other favorites.

Nigerian scam: As the first type of scam to show up online, the Nigerian con is still popular among swindlers. You're promised some type of reward or share of the profits to help get a large chunk of money out of a country, typically Nigeria. You're first asked to pay an initial sum to help with bank fees. But of course, once you've sent that money, the crook takes a hike.

Lotteries: A play on the Nigerian scam, you receive an e-mail announcing that you've won the lottery. But you need to pay some upfront costs to cover bank fees and other expenses, money that you, naturally, never see again.

The girlfriend ploy: A beautiful Russian woman wants to fly to your country to meet you. Because of some last-minute snafu, she needs you to send her money to cover airfare. But after the money is wired, she disappears, along with the cash.

Job offers: You get a job offer from a foreign company where you can work from home and earn thousands of dollars by putting in just a few hours each day. Sounds like a cushy gig. But if you accept the offer, you're asked for your bank account information, which the crooks use to store money stolen from other accounts, thereby tagging you as an unwitting accomplice in their crime.

Facebook/Hotmail: The bad guys grab your log-in credentials to Facebook, Hotmail, or another service and change your password so that you can no longer access it. Then they send a message to all your friends claiming that you've just been robbed while on vacation and need money wired over to pay off the hotel bill.

Compensation: A recent sequel to the Nigerian scam, this clever con sends you an e-mail claiming that a fund has been set up to reimburse victims of the Nigerian hoax, and that you may be one of the lucky victims. But to receive your compensation, you naturally have to kick in an advance fee of $1,000.

The mistake: In this popular scam, the crooks contact you if you're selling a house, car, or other pricey item. They offer to pay right away by check. But they send you more money than you wanted and ask you to refund the difference. The check you got bounces, and you've lost whatever cash you sent them.

"As with all the classic scams that predate the Internet, many of the numerous users that fall for these tricks and lose their money are reticent to report the crime," Luis Corrons, technical director of PandaLabs, said in a statement. "If recovering the stolen money was difficult in the old days, it is even harder now because criminals' tracks are often lost across the Web. The best defense is to learn how to identify these scams and avoid taking the bait."