Top 10 online scams

Almost every web surfer has encountered online scams before, ranging from lotto winnings to “cries” for help. Panda Security released a ranking of the top scams of the last ten years, based on their distribution and frequency.

They are as follows:


Nigerian scam: This typically arrives in the form of an email, claiming to be from someone who needs to get a very large sum of money out of a country (normally Nigeria, hence the name). You are promised a substantial reward if you help to do this. However, those that take the bait will be asked to forward an initial sum to help pay bank fees (often around R 5000). Once you have paid, the contact disappears and your money is lost.

Lotteries: An email arrives claiming that you are the winner of a lottery, and asks for your details in order to transfer the substantial winnings. As with the previous scam, victims are asked to front up around R 5000 to cover bank fees, etc.

Girlfriends: A beautiful girl, normally from Russia, finds your email address and wants to get to know you. She will always be desperate to visit your country and wants to come immediately, but at the last moment there is a problem and she needs some money (once again, around R 5000 should cover it) to sort out flight tickets, visas, etc. Not surprisingly, not only does your money disappear, but so does the girl.

Job offers: You get an email offering you a job from a foreign firm looking for financial agents. If you accept and hand over your banking details, you will be unwittingly used to help steal money from people whose bank account details have been stolen by the cyber criminals. The money will be transferred directly to your account, and you will then be asked to forward the money via Western Union. You become a ‘money mule’, and when the police investigate the theft, you will be seen as an accomplice.

Facebook / Hotmail: Criminals obtain details to access an account on Facebook, Hotmail, etc. They then change the login credentials so that the real user can no longer access the account, and send a message to all contacts saying that the account holder is on holiday (London seems to be a popular choice) and has been robbed just before coming home. They still have flight tickets but need between R 3000 and R 10 000 for the hotel.

Compensation: This is recent and originates from the Nigerian scam. The email claims that a fund has been set up to compensate victims of the Nigerian scam, and that your address is listed as among those possibly affected. You are offered a huge sum of money but naturally, as in the original scam, you will need to pay an advance sum of around R 5000.

The mistake: This has become very popular in recent months. Contact is made with someone who has published a classified ad selling a house, car, etc. With great enthusiasm, the scammers agree to buy whatever it is and quickly send a check, but for the wrong amount (always more than the agreed sum). The seller will be asked to return the difference. The check will bounce, the house remains unsold and the victim will lose any money transferred.