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Do not reply to the Fund Release scam email

Also Known As: Fund Release spam
Damage level: Medium

What is Fund Release email scam?

Scammers often use email as a channel to trick people into providing sensitive information (e.g., login credentials, credit card details, social security numbers), sending money and installing malware onto their computers. Scammers usually disguise their emails as important, official messages from legitimate companies.

They use the names of well-known entities, logos, names of real people, take advantage of real events, etc., to add authenticity to their emails. This email is disguised as a message regarding fund release - scammers spread with the aim to extort money from recipients.

Fund Release email scam

Scammers spread an email claiming that South Africa's First National and United Kingdom's Investment Standard banks have received authority from the America's Federal Reserve Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), and The World Bank to "release" pending lottery winnings, contract payments, inheritance funds, loan payments, ATM card claims, and other pending payments.

Their main goal is to trick recipients into believing that one of the banks has their banking details and that recipients need to confirm if those details are correct. In this way, scammers attempt to trick recipients into providing their credit card details.

It is likely that scammers may ask to pay a "transaction" or "processing" or some other fee (pay upfront fees for "financial services", which are never provided). Therefore, this is either a prepayment scam or a phishing email and, therefore, cannot be trusted.

Scammers could use provided details (credit card details) to steal identities, make fraudulent transactions, purchases, or to sell them to other cyber criminals. Typically, when recipients fall for these scams, they lose money, become victims of identity theft, and encounter other issues relating to finances.

Threat Summary:
Name Fund Release Email Scam
Threat Type Phishing, Scam, Social Engineering, Fraud
Fake Claim Funds ready for release
Disguise Email from First National Bank of South Africa
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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More examples of similar scams are "INTERNATIONAL MONETARY FUND (IMF) Email Scam", "U.S Army Special Operations Command Consignment Email Scam", and "EMPLOYEE BENEFITS Email Scam".

Most claim to be emails from legitimate companies, organizations, or other entities, and ask to provide personal information or make small payments. Note that email can also be used as a channel to deliver malware.

How do spam campaigns infect computers?

Phishing emails that are used to deliver malware generally contain a download link for a malicious file or attachment. Typically, cyber criminals attempt to trick recipients into opening a PDF or Microsoft Office document, JavaScript file, an executable file (.exe), ZIP, RAR, or other archive file that is designed to install specific malicious software.

Note that malicious MS Office documents can install malware only when users enable editing/content (macros commands). If the documents are opened with MS Office versions prior to 2010, however, the documents install malicious software automatically, since these older versions do not include "Protected View" mode.

How to avoid installation of malware

You are advised to research all software before download/installation. Use only official and verified download channels. Unofficial and free file-hosting websites, Peer-to-Peer sharing networks (BitTorrent, Gnutella, eMule), and other third party downloaders commonly offer harmful and bundled content, and are therefore untrusted and should be avoided.

When downloading/installing, read the terms, study all possible options, use the "Custom/Advanced" settings and opt-out of additional apps, tools, features, and so on.

Intrusive advertisements typically seem legitimate, however, they can redirect to dubious and malicious sites (e.g. gambling, pornography, adult-dating, and many others). If you encounter ads or redirects of this kind, inspect the system and remove all dubious applications and browser extensions/plug-ins immediately.

Installed programs must be activated and updated with tools or implemented functions that are provided by the official developers. No other third party, unofficial tools should be used.

Note that it is illegal to activate licensed software with ‘cracking’ tools. Files and programs should be downloaded from official websites and via direct download links. Avoid third party installers and the tools/sources mentioned above.

Do not open website links or files in irrelevant emails that are received from unknown, suspicious addresses. These bogus emails are often disguised as official and important. Regularly, scan your computer with reputable, up-to-date antivirus or anti-spyware software.

If you have already opened malicious attachments, we recommend running a scan with Combo Cleaner Antivirus for Windows to automatically eliminate infiltrated malware.

Text presented in the Fund Release scam email:

Subject: Fund Release


Attention:
 
Note that the First National Bank of South Africa, Investment Standard Bank of the UK has received the authority by United State America Federal Reserve Bank in-conjunction with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank to finally release all pending Lottery winning payments, Contract's payments Inheritance funds, Loan payments, ATM card claims and all pending payments.
Most importantly, we have received banking details for the transfer of funds, as such we urgently request that you reconfirm with us if you have given such mandate or not, failure to receive an immediate response from you within the next seven workings days, we shall believe that such mandate was issued by you, to that effect, we shall then commence with the transfer of the fund into the bank details that had been provided.
 
 
We are taking the necessary precautions to fight the spread of the COVID 19, we want you to rest assured that there are plenty of ways to stay safe while still enjoying everything that First National Bank of South Africa and Investment Standard Bank UK has to offer.
 
 
Regards,
 
Mr. Collins Hills
First National Bank of South Africa
Sandton City Complex, Cnr Rivonia Road
and 5th Street, Sandton,
Johannesburg, South Africa
Tel: +27-632696383

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Quick menu:

Types of malicious emails:

Phishing email icon Phishing Emails

Most commonly, cybercriminals use deceptive emails to trick Internet users into giving away their sensitive private information, for example, login information for various online services, email accounts, or online banking information.

Such attacks are called phishing. In a phishing attack, cybercriminals usually send an email message with some popular service logo (for example, Microsoft, DHL, Amazon, Netflix), create urgency (wrong shipping address, expired password, etc.), and place a link which they hope their potential victims will click on.

After clicking the link presented in such email message, victims are redirected to a fake website that looks identical or extremely similar to the original one. Victims are then asked to enter their password, credit card details, or some other information that gets stolen by cybercriminals.

Email-virus icon Emails with Malicious Attachments

Another popular attack vector is email spam with malicious attachments that infect users' computers with malware. Malicious attachments usually carry trojans that are capable of stealing passwords, banking information, and other sensitive information.

In such attacks, cybercriminals' main goal is to trick their potential victims into opening an infected email attachment. To achieve this goal, email messages usually talk about recently received invoices, faxes, or voice messages.

If a potential victim falls for the lure and opens the attachment, their computers get infected, and cybercriminals can collect a lot of sensitive information.

While it's a more complicated method to steal personal information (spam filters and antivirus programs usually detect such attempts), if successful, cybercriminals can get a much wider array of data and can collect information for a long period of time.

Sextortion email icon Sextortion Emails

This is a type of phishing. In this case, users receive an email claiming that a cybercriminal could access the webcam of the potential victim and has a video recording of one's masturbation.

To get rid of the video, victims are asked to pay a ransom (usually using Bitcoin or another cryptocurrency). Nevertheless, all of these claims are false - users who receive such emails should ignore and delete them.

How to spot a malicious email?

While cyber criminals try to make their lure emails look trustworthy, here are some things that you should look for when trying to spot a phishing email:

  • Check the sender's ("from") email address: Hover your mouse over the "from" address and check if it's legitimate. For example, if you received an email from Microsoft, be sure to check if the email address is @microsoft.com and not something suspicious like @m1crosoft.com, @microsfot.com, @account-security-noreply.com, etc.
  • Check for generic greetings: If the greeting in the email is "Dear user", "Dear @youremail.com", "Dear valued customer", this should raise suspiciousness. Most commonly, companies call you by your name. Lack of this information could signal a phishing attempt.
  • Check the links in the email: Hover your mouse over the link presented in the email, if the link that appears seems suspicious, don't click it. For example, if you received an email from Microsoft and the link in the email shows that it will go to firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0... you shouldn't trust it. It's best not to click any links in the emails but to visit the company website that sent you the email in the first place.
  • Don't blindly trust email attachments: Most commonly, legitimate companies will ask you to log in to their website and to view any documents there; if you received an email with an attachment, it's a good idea to scan it with an antivirus application. Infected email attachments are a common attack vector used by cybercriminals.

To minimise the risk of opening phishing and malicious emails we recommend using Combo Cleaner Antivirus for Windows

Example of a spam email:

Example of an email spam

What to do if you fell for an email scam?

  • If you clicked on a link in a phishing email and entered your password - be sure to change your password as soon as possible. Usually, cybercriminals collect stolen credentials and then sell them to other groups that use them for malicious purposes. If you change your password in a timely manner, there's a chance that criminals won't have enough time to do any damage.
  • If you entered your credit card information - contact your bank as soon as possible and explain the situation. There's a good chance that you will need to cancel your compromised credit card and get a new one.
  • If you see any signs of identity theft - you should immediately contact the Federal Trade Commission. This institution will collect information about your situation and create a personal recovery plan.
  • If you opened a malicious attachment - your computer is probably infected, you should scan it with a reputable antivirus application. For this purpose, we recommend using Combo Cleaner Antivirus for Windows.
  • Help other Internet users - report phishing emails to Anti-Phishing Working Group, FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, National Fraud Information Center and U.S. Department of Justice.

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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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