The Pepsi Lottery challenge – would some cynicism make us more secure?

I’m often asked who falls for the email scams many of us receive offering a millionaire’s inheritance, puppies for adoption, or even secrets of the JFK assassination.

The answer, normally, is that it is the most vulnerable members of society who are most at risk from the con-tricks, often called 419 scams after the relevant section of the Nigerian penal code.  The elderly,  people in financial dire straits, and the simply naive have had their finances plundered by criminals who have no conscience about how they steal money.

The latest evidence of this comes from the seaside town of Poole, on the southern coast of the UK. According to local media reports, an elderly man was swindled out of his life savings after receiving an email telling him he had won £1.5 million in a bogus Pepsi Cola Lottery.

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The vulnerable senior citizen sent a cheque for £1,648 to supposedly cover clearance fees and taxes, as requested in the email, but soon realised he had lost his money.  The conmen then tried to intimidate him with phone calls and legal threats demanding he make an additional payment.

But it’s not just the elderly and vulnerable who have fallen victim to these criminal scams.  Even former congressmen and ambassadors to the United Nations have been ended up in trouble due to advance fee fraud schemes.

The sad truth is that people will believe things said to them in a beautifully proportioned font in an email that they would never believe if a stranger told them on the bus.  It’s a horrible thought, but maybe if people were a little more cynical they and their finances would be a lot more secure.

* Image source: Roadsidepictures’ Flickr photostream (Creative Commons 2.0)

Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

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