Costa Coffee has been in the business pages of the papers recently, because Whitbread has sold the café chain to Coca-Cola, but what I’d like to draw your attention to is a Costa scam which is currently doing the rounds on WhatsApp.
The scam promises you a £75 voucher to celebrate Costa’s 50th birthday and the message looks genuine enough. It’s certainly tempting – £75 amounts to quite a lot of caffeine – and all you have to do is provide some personal details and share the message.
If you do share it with your contacts, the message will appear even more authentic, because it will look as though you’re endorsing it as genuine, but by doing so it puts your family and friends at risk of being scammed, because anyone giving away their personal details like this could be defrauded or have their identity stolen. If that happens, you’ll never be able to look aged Aunty Mavis in the eye again, will you? (Mind you, it might stop the ‘humorous’ Christmas presents from piling up…)
If you’re tempted by this or a similar promotion, before you even think about responding, do a quick search and check social media as well. Of course, it’s possible that you’re the first person to be targeted by the scammers, but the chances are that you’re not and that the scam has already been flagged already, including by the company concerned. That’s certainly what Costa did as soon as they were alerted to the existence of the scam.
Last year, Laura Harris of the National Trading Standards Scam Team, contributed a guest post to the Prizeologist on how to spot a prize draw scam, and she had much wisdom to impart on this topic. One of the points she made is that scammers tend to put you under pressure to respond, because they want you to act quickly, so you don’t stop and consider whether a promotion is legitimate a note. The Costa Whatsapp scam does this, too. Typically, at the top of the message are the words “Free £75 Voucher (155 remaining)”, which is designed not only to draw you in, but also to convince you to act swiftly, because the 155 gift cards that are apparently left are bound to go quickly.
I’ve also blogged before about how to spot a Facebook scam and my advice pretty much all holds true for spotting a Whatsapp scam as well. In this case, one of the clues that it’s a scam is the web address, costacoffee-uk.com, which looks genuine, but isn’t (Costa’s real web address is costa.co.uk).
Another is that this bonanza is allegedly in honour of Costa’s 50th birthday. Now, Costa was founded by brothers Bruno and Sergio Costa, who set up a coffee roastery in Lambeth, south London, in 1971. They didn’t open their first coffee shop, which was in nearby Vauxhall Bridge Road until 1978, but by my maths, even if you take the earlier date, Costa won’t hit the half-century mark until 2021.
That clinches it, doesn’t it, but why, you might wonder, did the scammers not bother to get their sums right? It seems like a silly mistake on their part, doesn’t it, but in fact it’s a deliberate strategy and it works in a similar way to spelling mistakes in scams.
I’ve written about why scammers can’t spell before and scammers can’t do the maths either because their logic is that if you’re stupid enough not to check the dates you might be stupid enough to fall for their scam. It’s a way of weeding out people who might question whether it’s sensible to give away the personal data the scammers want access to. It’s quite smart in a way – and also rather insulting.
If you come across a scam you can report it via Action Fraud’s online fraud reporting tool and if you’ve been the victim of a scam, particularly a prize draw scam, we’d really like to hear from you, so please get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org
As well as being Prizeology’s chief prizeologist, Sarah Burns is a Scambassador for the National Trading Standards Scams Team.