Application security, Threat Management, Malware, Phishing

A brief history of crime: Email scammers push fake Stephen Hawking contest

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that a recently observed spam campaign offering an $8 million prize to whoever can answer three questions about the late astrophysicist Stephen Hawking is a big-time scam.

Written in broken English, the spam document attempts to phish personal information and a copy of a government-issued ID card from recipients, according to a Mar. 23 blog post from Malwarebytes. Researcher and blog post author Christopher Boyd refers to the fake contest campaign as a 419 or advance fee scam, although the report does say if the perpetrators ask for money at any point.

"Celebrating Hawking of his late on age 76 yrs.," states the spam email. "Awarding to a Person whom answer these questions about Stephen Hawking will be Rewarded with Sum of $8 Million Dollars," referring to the theoretical physicist and cosmologist who died on Mar. 14, following a long bout with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

The sender, who also suspiciously goes by the name Stephen W. Hawking -- and later Science Space and Scientist Space -- poses three contest questions and offers a link to a news article that supposedly contains the answers, but in fact doesn't, Malwarebytes continues. 

Amusingly, when Boyd purposefully supplied incorrect answers in his email response, the scammers actually told him he was wrong and asked him to try again, supplying him with one of the correct answers. When Boyd followed up with the correct answers, the scammers responded again, announcing that his $8 million winnings were "ready to be claimed," as long as he supplied a copy of his ID and information about himself including his name, address, cell phone, age and -- for some strange reason -- height and width.

"This is just another poor attempt by scammers to make a quick buck off the name of a famous, recently deceased individual," writes Boyd. "Utterly reprehensible, and entirely fraudulent."
Bradley Barth

As director of multimedia content strategy at CyberRisk Alliance, Bradley Barth develops content for online conferences, webcasts, podcasts video/multimedia projects — often serving as moderator or host. For nearly six years, he wrote and reported for SC Media as deputy editor and, before that, senior reporter. He was previously a program executive with the tech-focused PR firm Voxus. Past journalistic experience includes stints as business editor at Executive Technology, a staff writer at New York Sportscene and a freelance journalist covering travel and entertainment. In his spare time, Bradley also writes screenplays.

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