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

News by Bradley Barth

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that a recently observed spam campaign offering a US$ 8 million (£5.7 million) prize to whoever can answer three questions about the late Stephen Hawking is a big-time scam.

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that a recently observed spam campaign offering a US$ 8 million (£5.7 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 23 March 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 not 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 14 March, 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 US$ 8 million (£5.7 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."
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