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Do not trust the fake "Employee Retention Credit/ IRS" emails

Also Known As: TrickBot trojan
Type: Trojan
Distribution: Low
Damage level: Severe

"Employee Retention Credit email virus" removal guide

What is the "Employee Retention Credit" scam email?

"Employee Retention Credit email virus" refers to a spam campaign proliferating the TrickBot trojan. The term "spam campaign" defines a mass-scale operation during which deceptive emails are sent by the thousand. The scam letters distributed through this campaign - are disguised as notifications from the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) - the United States main body of federal statutory tax law, responsible for collecting taxes and administering the IRC (Internal Revenue Code). The fake IRS emails notify of renewed taxation policies for business - issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The amended policies are supposedly contained in an attached Microsoft Office Excel document. However, upon opening, the file initiates download/installation of TrickBot malware.

Employee Retention Credit malware-spreading email spam campaign

The "Employee Retention Credit" scam emails (subject/title "IRS Documentation Policies Renewal"; may vary) mention the genuine business relief measure - "The Employee Retention Credit"; it is a fully refundable tax credit that eligible employers who are able to keep employees on payroll can claim. The fake IRS letters notify of a renewal in business taxation policies. Details concerning these changes can be found in the virulent attachment ("Info_76762.xlsb"; filename may vary). Furthermore, the emails state that the document can only be opened on PCs (personal computers) - due to alleged security measures. It can also be opened through any Internet browser, with the exception of Microsoft Edge and Internet Explorer. As mentioned in the introduction, the "Employee Retention Credit" emails are fake, and they are in no way associated with the real Internal Revenue Service. Therefore, instead of accessing the promised information, when the attached Excel document is opened and macro commands are enabled - TrickBot's infection process is triggered.

The TrickBot trojan is a versatile piece of malicious software, primarily geared towards data-theft. Some of its main functionalities include - gathering system information, extracting saved log-in credentials (i.e., IDs, usernames, and passwords), Internet cookies, browsing activity, auto-fills, and other sensitive data from certain browsers. This malware is also capable of altering displayed websites so that data entered into them (e.g., log-in credentials) would be recorded and delivered to the cyber criminals. TrickBot can obtain PIN codes of several US telecommunication service providers from users' devices, which allows the criminals to use victims' phone numbers. Additionally, newer versions of this trojan can operate as screen-locking ransomware. In other words, the malicious program can lock the infected device's screen and demand payment for access recovery. To summarize, by trusting the fake "Employee Retention Credit" emails, users can experience system infections, severe privacy issues, financial losses, and identity theft. If it is suspected/known that TrickBot (or other malware) has already infected the device - it is crucial to immediately remove it with the use of anti-virus software.

Threat Summary:
Name TrickBot trojan
Threat Type Trojan, password-stealing virus, banking malware, spyware.
Hoax Emails notify of renewed business taxation policies, and imply that recipients can benefit from this.
Disguise Scam emails are disguised as notifications from the IRS.
Attachment(s) Info_76762.xlsb (filename may vary)
Detection Names BitDefender (Trojan.GenericKDZ.73672), DrWeb (X97M.DownLoader.605), ESET-NOD32 (DOC/TrojanDownloader.Agent.CUO), Kaspersky (HEUR:Trojan-Downloader.MSOffice.SLoad.gen), Microsoft (TrojanDownloader:O97M/Encdoc.PEZ!MTB), Full List Of Detections (VirusTotal)
Symptoms Trojans are designed to stealthily infiltrate the victim's computer and remain silent, and thus no particular symptoms are clearly visible on an infected machine.
Payload TrickBot
Distribution methods Infected email attachments, malicious online advertisements, social engineering, software 'cracks'.
Damage Stolen passwords and banking information, identity theft, the victim's computer added to a botnet.
Malware Removal (Windows)

To eliminate possible malware infections, scan your computer with legitimate antivirus software. Our security researchers recommend using Malwarebytes.
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"FedEx Express Email Virus", "I Have Obtained Document You Mailed Me", "Qel Email Virus", and "Federal Ministry Of Health Germany" are some examples of malware-proliferating spam campaigns. The letters distributed through these large-scale operations - are usually presented as "important", "urgent", "priority", and so forth. These emails are also commonly disguised as mail from legitimate government bodies, institutions, organizations, companies, service providers, and other entities. Aside from malicious software distribution, deceptive letters are used for phishing and various other scams. Due to spam mail's relative prevalence, it is strongly recommended to exercise caution with incoming emails.

How did "Employee Retention Credit email virus" infect my computer?

Systems are infected via malicious files distributed through spam campaigns. These files can be attached to the emails, and/or the letters can contain download links of infectious content. Virulent files can be in various formats, e.g., Microsoft Office and PDF documents, archives, executables, JavaScript, etc. When the files are opened - the infection chain (i.e., malware download/installation) is jumpstarted. For example, Microsoft Office documents cause infections by executing malicious macros. This process begins the moment a document is opened - in Microsoft Office versions released before 2010. Later versions have "Protected View" mode that prevents automatic execution of macro commands. Instead, users are asked to enable macros (i.e., enable editing/content) and warned of the risks.

How to avoid installation of malware?

To avoid infecting the device via spam mail, it is advised against opening suspicious and irrelevant emails - especially any attachments or links present in them. It is recommended to use Microsoft Office versions released after 2010. Malware is not proliferated exclusively through spam campaigns; it is also distributed via untrustworthy download channels (e.g., unofficial and free file-hosting websites, Peer-to-Peer sharing networks, etc.), illegal activation ("cracking") tools, and fake updates. Therefore, it is important to only download from official and verified sources. Additionally, all programs must be activated and updated with tools/functions provided by legitimate developers. It is paramount to have a dependable anti-virus/anti-spyware suite installed and updated. This software has to be used to run regular system scans and remove detected threats and issues. If you've already opened "Employee Retention Credit email virus" attachment, we recommend running a scan with Malwarebytes for Windows to automatically eliminate infiltrated malware.

Text presented in the "Employee Retention Credit" scam email letter:

Subject: IRS Documentation Policies Renewal

 

IRS

 

www.irs.gov/coronavirus

 

Hello.

 

The Employee Retention Credit

 

This is a notification from Internal Revenue Services (IRS).

 

Renewed taxation policies for all areas of business due the Covid-19 Form1859-2021 *kindly contact the Internal Revenue Services for any question, details in attached document. IRS

 

* Due to new security measures, file can be opened on the PC ONLY (any web browser except Edge and IE).

 

Sincerely, Wayne K. Smith Administrative Assistant Employee ID 3-81534 IRS Head Department

 

Info_76762.xlsb

Malicious attachment distributed via "Employee Retention Credit" spam campaign ("Info_76762.xlsb"):

Malicious attachment distributed through Employee Retention Credit spam campaign (Info_76762.xlsb)

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.

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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.

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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.

QR Code
TrickBot trojan QR code
A QR code (Quick Response Code) is a machine-readable code which stores URLs and other information. This code can be read using a camera on a smartphone or a tablet. Scan this QR code to have an easy access removal guide of TrickBot trojan on your mobile device.
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