Not the Real Thing: Beware the Coca-Cola Foreign Lottery Scam

coca-cola phishingTypical words from a phishing scam: "You are among the lucky winners. Send your name, address, phone number, occupation, sex, age, and nationality to this email."

So what's unusual about this one? It tries to fool its victims by associating itself with one of the world's most recognized brands, claiming it's a "Coca-Cola Official Prize Notification."

The email page sports several convincing-looking logos, though it's written in the same stilted language as many similar scams that originate in Nigeria.

"The email takes advantage of Coca-Cola's well-recognized name and logo to convince consumers they've won a foreign lottery prize," the Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington said in a statement.It claims the recipient is a winner, though no tickets were sold. Coca-Cola warns consumers on its website about similar hoaxes and gives examples:

"The Coca-Cola Company has learned of several text messages, emails and letters being sent to people that falsely claim the recipient has either won a sweepstake or a cash prize from our company," the BBB's notice said.

"The text messages direct the recipients to a website that appears to be, but is not, an official site of The Coca-Cola Company. The official My Coke Rewards address is, and My Coke Rewards is a program offered only in the United States," the BBB said.

There are other hints the email might be bogus, starting with the salutation, "CONGRATULATIONS! YOU WON GBP 950,000!" It goes on to say: "This Lottery is approved by the British Game Board and also licensed by the International Association of Gaming Regulators (IAGR).This lottery is the 3rd of its kind and we intend to sensitize the public."

The BBB reports the scammers using a similarly colorful variety of subject lines, ranging from " 'The Coca-Cola Award Notification' to 'The Coca-Cola Promo Winning Notification' to 'The Coca-Cola Worldwide Christmas Promo,' 'Notification for Coca-Cola Foundation Cash Aid,' or other similar titles... The emails also include formal language that makes them look 'official,' and are sometimes designed to look legitimate by including images or photographs, a 'secret pin code' or reference/ticket number and contact information for a Coca-Cola representative."

The BBB warns the fake Coca-Cola email follows patterns seen in many phishing emails and scams, which try to gain the consumer's trust before putting them at risk one of two ways:
  1. The "winner" receives a request for detailed personal information – such as a bank account number for direct deposit or a Social Security Number for identity verification. If consumers provide the information, they may become victims of financial fraud or identity theft.

  2. The "winner" is asked to forward funds or part of the winnings for taxes or fees. Sometimes it's a fake check, and the money never deposits. Or, the check is stolen from another consumer or business; it may deposit funds, but the rightful owner will need to be repaid.
Lottery scams are on the BBB's top 10 scams and rip-offs list for 2010.
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