updated 3/14/2011 2:14:10 PM ET 2011-03-14T18:14:10

Nubile Russian women, Nigerian money managers and overseas employers are all part of the top scams used by cybercriminals over the past 10 years, according to a report by PandaLabs.

These con jobs generally work the same way: Cybercriminals contact their victims through e-mail or on a social network. They then ask their “marks” to get back to them by e-mail, telephone or fax. Often, the scammers use the targets’ own greed to entrap 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,” said Luis Corrons, technical director of PandaLabs, said in a statement.

Based on their distribution and frequency, PandaLabs identifies the following as the most common scams of the decade:

  • The Nigerian “419” Scam: The first type of scam to appear on the Internet, this modern tweak on the centuries-old “Spanish Prisoner” con is still finding victims. Typically, you’ll get an e-mail from someone who has to transfer a very large sum of money out of a remote country, usually Nigeria. The scammers promise you a hefty reward if you’ll help. But first, you’ll be asked to forward an initial sum—usually via Western Union—to help pay bank fees, sometimes as much as $1,000. Once you send the money, your contact and your money vanish.
  • The Foreign Lottery: An even less plausible twist on the Nigerian scam. An e-mail claims you won the lottery in a foreign country. The sender asks for your personal information in order to transfer the substantial winnings. Again, you’re asked for money, often $1,000, to cover bank fees and related expenses. You never see your winnings or your $1,000 again.
  • The Double Nigerian: Cybercriminals send you an e-mail telling you a fund has been set up to reimburse the victims of the Nigerian scam -- and that you’re eligible for a chunk of the cash. But to receive your compensation, you have to wire the crooks $1,000 in advance.
  • The Disappearing Girlfriend: A beautiful, young girl, often from Russia, gets in touch with you online and says she’s just dying to meet you. She wants to visit immediately, but because of some last-minute problems, she needs you to send her money for airfare and other travel expenses. Once she gets the money, you never hear from her again.
  • The Overseas Job Offer: A foreign company offers you a position that you just can’t pass up: the opportunity to earn up to $3,000 a day working from home. But of course, you’ll have to divulge your bank account information. In this case, the cybercrooks use your account to store money stolen from other accounts, and they’ll then ask you to forward the money to them via Western Union—setting you up as an unwitting accomplice.
  • The Friend in Need: Scammers steal your log-in credentials to Facebook, Hotmail or similar sites and change your password so you can’t access your account. Then they send a message to all your contacts telling them that you've just been robbed while on vacation, often in London, and that you need your pals to wire “you” money to pay the hotel bill.
  • The Buyer’s Mistake: Again, a modern twist on an old con. Bad guys get in touch with you if you’re selling a house, car or other valuable item on sites like Craigslist. They say they want to pay immediately by check. When the check arrives, it’s for more than what they agreed to pay for the item. So the scammers ask you to wire the difference to them, usually via Western Union. You deposit the check, and you wire the difference to the crooks. But when the check bounces, you’re out the money you sent them and, if you’ve already handed it over, the merchandise as well.

How do you avoid these scams? Well, if it sounds too good to be true – someone offering you money, companionship or a job out of the blue – then it almost certainly is. Most people’s B.S. proverbial detectors would go off before they wired money to someone they only knew from the Internet.

The “friend in need” scam is more complicated. Since it involves cracking a password, it’s best to have one that’s hard to guess. Use a combination of numbers, punctuation marks and upper- and lower-case letters – and, if you can remember it, a word not found in the dictionary.

The “buyer’s mistake” is also problematic because it involves not your greed, but your sense of fair play. Of course you want the other person to not overpay. But the remedy is simple: Tear up the overpaid check and ask them to send you another one.

“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,” Corrons said. “The best defense is to learn how to identify these scams and avoid taking the bait.”

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