Nigerian scam 419

Panda Security's anti-malware laboratory, PandaLabs, has just released its list of the most common online scams of the past 10 years and the Nigerian scam (419) is that the top of the list based on based on distribution and frequency. The Nigerian scam or Advance Fee Fraud is popularly called "419" after the section of the Criminal Code of Nigeria that references it.

PandaLabs called the Nigerian scam the first type of scam to appear on the Internet and it continues to be broadly used by cybercriminals today. It also said that the scam normally begins with a person receiving an e-mail claiming to be from someone who needs to get a very large sum of money out of a country, often Nigeria.

Targeted victims are then promised a considerable reward if they offer help. However, if they take the bait they will be asked to forward an initial sum to help pay bank fees, often to the tune of $1,000. Once they've sent the sum, their contact disappears and their money is long gone.

Another variation of the Nigerian scam, the compensation scam, also made the top list. With the compensation scam victims are told that there has been a fund set up to compensate victims of 419 and are asked to send fees to start the process.

Luis Corrons, technical director of PandaLabs, "As with all the typical scams that predate the Internet, many of the numerous users that fall for these tricks and lose their money are reserved to report the crime. 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."

Other scams that topped the list most frequent online scams with the Nigerian scam are

  • Lottery Scam: Similar to the Nigerian scam. Victims typically receives an e-mail that states that the individual won a lottery, and asks for their personal and account details in order to transfer the substantial winnings. Just like the Nigeria scam, victims are asked for an upfront fee to cover bank fees and related expenses.
  • The Girlfriend Scam: Here the scammers typically claim to be a beautiful girl, often from Russia, who wants to get to know her victim. She will always be young and desperate to visit the victim in his home country. She wants to come immediately, but at the last moment there is a problem and she needs money for her flight ticket or other travel expenses. Unsurprisingly, after she receives the money, she vanishes.
  • Job Offers: Victims typically receive a message from a foreign company looking for employees or financial agents in their country. The work is somtimes potrayed as easy work that can be done from home and they are promised earnings of up to $3,000 for working just three or four hours a day. If the victim accepts the offer, they'll be asked for their bank account details. In this case they will be used to help steal money from people whose bank account information has been stolen by cybercriminals. The money will be transferred directly to the victim's account, and they will then be asked to forward the money via Western Union. Victims then become "money mules," and when the police investigate the theft, they will be seen as an accomplice.
  • Facebook / Hotmail/Yahoo: Criminals obtain details to access an account on Facebook, Hotmail or a similar site. They then change the login info for the site so that the real user can no longer access the account, and send a message to all the people in the victim's contact list saying that the account holder is on holiday and has been robbed or attacked just before coming home and needs a substantial amount of money to pay for hotel or hospital bills.
  • Compensation: This is a variation of the Nigerian 419 scam. The e-mail claims that a fund has been set up to compensate victims of the Nigerian 419 scam, and that their name or address has been listed amongst those possibly affected. Victims are offered compensation, often to the tune of $1 million but will need to pay an advance sum of around $1,000.
  • The Mistake: Here the criminal contacts someone who has published a classified ad on a site such as Craigslist to sell a house or other high-cost item. With great enthusiasm, the scammers agree to buy whatever it is and quickly send a check, but for an incorrect amount that is always more than the agreed sum. The seller will be asked to return the difference. The check will bounce and the victim will lose any money they transferred to the criminal.

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