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Avoid losing your email account via "Upgrade Account" phishing emails

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

"Upgrade Account email scam" removal guide

What is the "Upgrade Account" scam email?

"Upgrade Account email scam" refers to a spam campaign - a large-scale operation during which scam emails are sent by the thousand. The letters distributed through this campaign - claim that recipients' email accounts will be deactivated if they do not update them. This deceptive mail aims to promote a phishing website, which is disguised as the email account sign-in page. Information entered into this webpage (i.e., email addresses and passwords) are recorded and sent to the scammers behind the "Upgrade Account" spam campaign.

Upgrade Account email spam campaign

The "Upgrade Account" scam emails (subject/title "Action Required:  [Mail Service Upgrade]") state that all outdated mail versions will be deactivated. The letters inform recipients that their email accounts are outdated. To prevent deactivation, the emails instruct to sign in and upgrade the accounts to the latest version. The "UPGRADE NOW" button redirects to a phishing site. It appears as an email sign-in page; however, instead of accessing their accounts - users inadvertently expose their log-in credentials (i.e., email addresses and passwords). Therefore, the scammers can then gain access and control over the corresponding mail accounts.

Email accounts are especially targeted by scammers and cyber criminals - as they are typically connected with other platforms and services. Hence, through stolen emails - access/control may be gained over the accounts associated with them. To elaborate on how they can be used, then on hijacked communication platforms (e.g., emails, social media, social networking, messengers, etc.), scammers can pretend to be the genuine owner and ask contacts/friends/followers for loans. Alternatively, malware can be proliferated (by sharing infectious files) through these platforms. Finance-rated accounts (e.g., banking, online money transferring, e-commerce, digital wallet, etc.) can be used to make fraudulent transactions and/or online purchases. To summarize, by trusting the "Upgrade Account" emails, recipients can experience severe privacy issues, financial losses, and identity theft. Should attempts to log-in through the scam website have already been made - it is strongly advised to change the passwords of potentially compromised accounts. Additionally, it is recommended to contact the official support of the endangered platforms.

Threat Summary:
Name Upgrade Account Email Scam
Threat Type Phishing, Scam, Social Engineering, Fraud
Fake Claim Emails claim the recipient's mail account will be deactivated unless they upgrade it.
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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"DENTIN METAL ENGINEERING", "GoDaddy email scam", and "Facebook Lottery" are a few examples of phishing spam campaigns. The letters sent through these mass-scale operations - are usually presented as "official", "urgent", "priority", and similar. The emails can even be disguised as mail from legitimate institutions, authorities, organizations, companies, businesses, service providers, and other entities. Spam campaigns are used for phishing, various scams, and malware (e.g., trojan, ransomware, etc.) distribution. Due to how widespread spam mail is, it is highly recommended to exercise caution with incoming emails.

How do spam campaigns infect computers?

Systems are infected via virulent files sent through spam campaigns. The files can be attached to the scam emails, and/or the letters can contain download links of infectious content. Malicious files can be in various formats, e.g., archives (ZIP, RAR, etc.), executables (.exe, .run, etc.), PDF and Microsoft Office documents, JavaScript, and so on. When these files 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. This process begins the moment a document is opened - in Microsoft Office versions released before 2010. Newer versions have "Protected View" mode that prevents automatic execution of macros. Instead, users are asked to enable editing/content (i.e., macro commands) and warned of the risks.

How to avoid installation of malware?

To avoid infecting the system via spam mail, it is expressly advised against opening suspect/irrelevant emails - especially any attachments or links present in them. It is recommended to use Microsoft Office versions released after 2010. Aside from spam campaigns, malware is also spread through untrustworthy download channels (e.g., unofficial and free file-hosting websites, Peer-to-Peer sharing networks, and other third-party downloaders), illegal activation tools ("cracks"), and fake updaters. Therefore, it is important to always download from official and verified sources. Additionally, software must be activated and updated with tools/functions provided by legitimate developers. To ensure device and user safety, it is paramount to have a dependable anti-virus/anti-spyware suite installed and updated. Furthermore, these programs have to be used to perform regular system scans and 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 "Upgrade Account" scam email letter:

Subject: Action Required: ❻ [Mail Service Upgrade]

 

UPGRADE ACCOUNT

 

Dear ********,
 
We are closing down all outdated versions of the webmail and you are on old version as of 3/30/2021 6:24:19 p.m..
 
Click the button below and Sign-in to get the latest version of the mailbox to avoid being De-activated on current version.
 
UPGRADE NOW
 
 
Sincerely,
******** Webmail Support

Screenshot of the phishing website promoted through the "Upgrade Account" spam campaign:

Upgrade Account email scam promoted phishing website

Another example of email upgrade (update)-themed spam used to promote a phishing website:

Email Update spam promoting a phishing site (2021-04-06)

Text presented within:

Subject: EMAIL UPDATE

EMAIL UPDATE
Hello ,
please validate your ******** address
as we are going through new server upgrade
 
CLICK HERE TO VALI DATE

© 2021 All rights reserved

Screenshot of the promoted phishing website:

Phishing website promoted via update email spam (2021-04-06)

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.

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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