Avoid getting scammed by a fake "COVID-19 Relief Fund" email

Also Known As: possible malware infections
Distribution: Low
Damage level: Medium

"Covid Phishing Scam Email" removal guide

What is "Covid Phishing Scam Email"?

"Covid Phishing" refers to a phishing scam, claiming that recipients have been randomly selected as beneficiaries of the "COVID-19 Relief Fund". They can supposedly receive an unbelievable sum of $155,000 US dollars. This scheme is designed to extract personal information from the recipients, which can be misused in a variety of ways and lead to likewise varied and serious issues. Due to increased concerns over Coronavirus/COVID-19, scammers and cyber criminals have been incorporating the pandemic into their schemes.

Covid Phishing scam email spam campaign

The "Covid Phishing" scam email, title/subject "Hello", informs recipients that they have been selected as beneficiaries of The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and The Asia Foundation. While these foundations are legitimate, the deceptive letters are in no way connected to said organizations. The email states that the partnered foundations have established a "COVID-19 Relief Fund" and they select beneficiaries at random. The letter alleges that users can receive $155,000 USD to help them cope with the Coronavirus pandemic. This sum must be claimed within a week, else it will pass to another individual. To claim these funds, recipients are instructed to send their personal information - name, occupation, location and contact number - via email. It must be emphasized that all of the statements made in this letter are false. Trusting this email scam can result in severe issues. For example, to supposedly transfer the promised funds - scammers can ask for banking account and/or credit card details, which can then be misused to make fraudulent transactions, online purchases and so on. Alternatively, users can be asked to make monetary transactions themselves; e.g. pay fake transfer, registration and other fees in order to receive the nonexistent relief funds. In summary, trusting the "Covid Phishing" email can lead to financial losses, serious privacy issues and even identity theft.

Threat Summary:
Name Covid Phishing Scam Email
Threat Type Phishing, Scam, Social Engineering, Fraud
Fake Claim Scam claims recipients have been selected as beneficiaries of "COVID-19 Relief Fund".
Disguise Emails are disguised as mail from The Asia Foundation.
Symptoms Unauthorized online purchases, changed online account passwords, identity theft, illegal access of the computer.
Distribution methods Deceptive emails, rogue online pop-up ads, search engine poisoning techniques, misspelled domains.
Damage Loss of sensitive private information, monetary loss, identity theft.
Malware Removal (Windows)

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Deceptive/Scam emails are sent by the thousand, during large scale operations called "spam campaigns". "COVID-19 pandemic is straining health systems worldwide", "COVID-19 Cases Surpassed 300,000", "Infect Your Family With CoronaVirus" are a few similar ones to "Covid Phishing". The letters are usually presented as "official", "important", "urgent" and similar. They are also often disguised as mail from genuine foundations, organizations, institutions, companies, businesses, and so on. These letters are commonly used for phishing, however they may also be employed to proliferate trojans, ransomware and other malware. Regardless of what such emails claim, request or demand - their end-goal is the same - to generate revenue for the scammers / cyber criminals behind them.

How do spam campaigns infect computers?

System infections are caused through malicious files sent via spam campaigns. These emails contain virulent content as attachments and/or download links. Infectious files can be in various formats (e.g. archive and executable files, PDF and Microsoft Office documents, JavaScript, etc.); when they are executed, run or otherwise opened - the infection process (i.e. malware download/installation) is triggered. For example, Microsoft Office documents cause infections by executing malicious macro commands. Upon being opened, the docs ask users to enable macros (i.e. to enable editing/content) and when that is done - the infection begins. However, in Microsoft Office programs released before 2010 - download/installation of malware is started once an infectious document is opened.

How to avoid installation of malware?

Suspicious and/or irrelevant emails should not be opened, especially any attachments or links present in them - as that can result in a high-risk infection. Additionally, only Microsoft Office versions released after 2010. These newer versions have "Protected View", which prevent malware download/installation upon a virulent document being opened. Other popular proliferation methods for malicious programs include: untrustworthy download channels (e.g. unofficial and free file-hosting sites, Peer-to-Peer sharing networks and other third party downloaders), illegal activation ("cracking") tools and fake updaters. Therefore, it is strongly advised to only download from official/verified sources, as well as activate and update software with tools/functions provided by legitimate developers. To ensure device integrity and user safety, it is paramount to have a dependable anti-virus/anti-spyware suite installed. Furthermore, these programs have to be kept up-to-date, used to run system scans and to remove detected/potential threats. If you've already opened malicious attachments, we recommend running a scan with Malwarebytes for Windows to automatically eliminate infiltrated malware.

Text presented in the "Covid Phishing" scam email letter:

Subject: Hello

 

This is to inform you that you have been randomly selected as one
of the beneficiaries of The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's
"COVID-19 Relief Fund", in collaboration with The Asia
Foundation; which was setup to help business owners and
individuals during and after the corona virus pandemic.

 

You are to receive the sum of $155,000 USD (One Hundred and Fifty
Five Thousand USD).

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has committed substantial
resources to ensure that the after effects of this pandemic on
businesses and jobs are reduced to the barest minimum. They have
decided to partner with The Asia Foundation so as to reach
beneficiaries as far as Asia.

 

To claim this fund, kindly send the following details to this
email ( covid19.asiafoundation@citromail.hu ) address only:

 

Name:
Occupation:
Location:
Contact Number:

 

You have just 1 week to claim this offer or your slot will be
passed on to another person.

 

Regards,
Sunder Ramaswamy
Chairman, The Asia Foundation

Appearance of a Coronavirus (COVID-19)-related phishing site (covid-19research[.]co) promoted via one of these spam emails. The site asks for donations in Bitcoin cryptocurrency:

covid-19research.co coronavirus phishing website

Screenshot of yet another Covid-19-relating (Boeing-themed) scam email:

Covid-19 relating scam email promoting Boeing-themed phishing website

Text presented within:

BOEING
747-400/-400ER Freighters

In support for COVID-19 transport mission, Boeing and our Atlas Air partners have released 32 B747F aircraft for immediate sale, charter and ACMI / dry lease.


Boeing is proud to be part of this historic flight to bring vital PPE to healthcare workers across the world.

Boeing President and CEO Dave Calhoun wants to ensure our frontline healthcare workers have the equipment they critically need.

Visit Boeing data room below to access specification sheet and request price for quote sale, charter and ACMI / dry lease.

DATA
ROOM

Screenshot of a phishing website (boeingdataroom[.]online) promoted via this scam email:

Boeing-themed phishing website promoted via covid-19 relating scam emails

Instant automatic malware removal: Manual threat removal might be a lengthy and complicated process that requires advanced computer skills. Malwarebytes is a professional automatic malware removal tool that is recommended to get rid of malware. Download it by clicking the button below:
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How to remove malware manually?

Manual malware removal is a complicated task - usually it is best to allow antivirus or anti-malware programs to do this automatically. To remove this malware we recommend using Malwarebytes for Windows. If you wish to remove malware manually, the first step is to identify the name of the malware that you are trying to remove. Here is an example of a suspicious program running on a user's computer:

malicious process running on user's computer sample

If you checked the list of programs running on your computer, for example, using task manager, and identified a program that looks suspicious, you should continue with these steps:

manual malware removal step 1Download a program called Autoruns. This program shows auto-start applications, Registry, and file system locations:

screenshot of autoruns application

manual malware removal step 2Restart your computer into Safe Mode:

Windows XP and Windows 7 users: Start your computer in Safe Mode. Click Start, click Shut Down, click Restart, click OK. During your computer start process, press the F8 key on your keyboard multiple times until you see the Windows Advanced Option menu, and then select Safe Mode with Networking from the list.

Safe Mode with Networking

Video showing how to start Windows 7 in "Safe Mode with Networking":

Windows 8 users: Start Windows 8 is Safe Mode with Networking - Go to Windows 8 Start Screen, type Advanced, in the search results select Settings. Click Advanced startup options, in the opened "General PC Settings" window, select Advanced startup. Click the "Restart now" button. Your computer will now restart into the "Advanced Startup options menu". Click the "Troubleshoot" button, and then click the "Advanced options" button. In the advanced option screen, click "Startup settings". Click the "Restart" button. Your PC will restart into the Startup Settings screen. Press F5 to boot in Safe Mode with Networking.

Windows 8 Safe Mode with networking

Video showing how to start Windows 8 in "Safe Mode with Networking":

Windows 10 users: Click the Windows logo and select the Power icon. In the opened menu click "Restart" while holding "Shift" button on your keyboard. In the "choose an option" window click on the "Troubleshoot", next select "Advanced options". In the advanced options menu select "Startup Settings" and click on the "Restart" button. In the following window you should click the "F5" button on your keyboard. This will restart your operating system in safe mode with networking.

windows 10 safe mode with networking

Video showing how to start Windows 10 in "Safe Mode with Networking":

 

manual malware removal step 3Extract the downloaded archive and run the Autoruns.exe file.

extract autoruns.zip and run autoruns.exe

manual malware removal step 4In the Autoruns application, click "Options" at the top and uncheck "Hide Empty Locations" and "Hide Windows Entries" options. After this procedure, click the "Refresh" icon.

Click 'Options' at the top and uncheck 'Hide Empty Locations' and 'Hide Windows Entries' options

manual malware removal step 5Check the list provided by the Autoruns application and locate the malware file that you want to eliminate.

You should write down its full path and name. Note that some malware hides process names under legitimate Windows process names. At this stage, it is very important to avoid removing system files. After you locate the suspicious program you wish to remove, right click your mouse over its name and choose "Delete".

locate the malware file you want to remove

After removing the malware through the Autoruns application (this ensures that the malware will not run automatically on the next system startup), you should search for the malware name on your computer. Be sure to enable hidden files and folders before proceeding. If you find the filename of the malware, be sure to remove it.

searching for malware file on your computer

Reboot your computer in normal mode. Following these steps should remove any malware from your computer. Note that manual threat removal requires advanced computer skills. If you do not have these skills, leave malware removal to antivirus and anti-malware programs. These steps might not work with advanced malware infections. As always it is best to prevent infection than try to remove malware later. To keep your computer safe, install the latest operating system updates and use antivirus software.

To be sure your computer is free of malware infections, we recommend scanning it with Malwarebytes for Windows.

About the author:

Tomas Meskauskas

Tomas Meskauskas - expert security researcher, professional malware analyst.

I am passionate about computer security and technology. I have an experience of over 10 years working in various companies related to computer technical issue solving and Internet security. I have been working as an author and editor for pcrisk.com since 2010. Follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn to stay informed about the latest online security threats. Contact Tomas Meskauskas.

PCrisk security portal is brought by a company RCS LT. Joined forces of security researchers help educate computer users about the latest online security threats. More information about the company RCS LT.

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Malware activity

Global malware activity level today:

Medium threat activity

Increased attack rate of infections detected within the last 24 hours.

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