Global IT vendor Panda Security has drawn up a list of the most widely used scams over the last few years. These circulating tricks all have the same objective: to defraud users of amounts ranging from R5000 and upwards.
Typically, these scams follow a similar pattern: initial contact is made via email or through social networks. The intended victim is then asked to respond, either by email, telephone, fax, etc. Once a user has made contact, criminals will try to gain their trust, finally asking for a sum of money under one pretext or another.
"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 hesitant to report the crime", says Jeremy Matthews, head of Panda's sub-Saharan operations. "And if recovering the stolen money was difficult in the old days, it is even harder now as the criminals' tracks are often lost across the Web. The best defence is to learn how to identify these scams and avoid taking the bait".
Panda has ranked the most frequent scams of the last 10 years, based on their distribution and the frequency with which they are received. They are as follows:
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 R5000). Once you have paid, the contact disappears and your money is lost.
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 R5000 to cover bank fees, etc.
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.
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 R3000 and R10 000 for the hotel.
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 R5000.
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.
It's normal that if you're not aware of these types of criminal ploys, you might think that you have won a lottery or found true love on the Internet. So here are some practical tips that will help keep you out of harm's way:
Have a good antivirus installed that can detect spam. Many of these messages will be detected and classified as junk mail by most security solutions. This will help you be wary of the content of any such messages.
Use your common sense. This is always your best ally against this kind of fraud. Nobody gives away something for nothing, and love at first sight on the Internet is a very remote possibility. As a general rule, you should be highly suspicious of these kinds of contacts from the outset.
The Internet is a fantastic tool for a great many things, but if you really want to sell something, it's better to have the buyer standing right in front of you. So even if you make contact across the Web, it's better to make the transaction in the 'real world', to verify the genuine intentions of potential buyers.
If however, you do fall victim to fraud, Panda advises you to promptly report the crime to the police. "Even though tracking down this type of crime can be complex, law enforcement agencies are becoming increasingly adept at dealing with cyber criminals", concludes Matthews.