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Avoid losing your email account via fake "Covid-19 stimulus payment" emails

Also Known As: Covid-19 Stimulus Payment spam
Damage level: Medium

What is "Covid-19 stimulus payment Email Scam"?

"Covid-19 stimulus payment Email Scam" refers to a spam campaign. These scam emails claim to contain the receipt of a COVID-19 stimulus payment. Instead, the fake letters have a phishing file attached to them. This attachment attempts to trick users into disclosing their email account log-in credentials.

Covid-19 stimulus payment email spam campaign

"Covid-19 stimulus payment Email Scam" in detail

The scam emails claim that the Covid-19 stimulus payment was completed and request confirmation that the receipt has been received. When users open the attachment, it displays a message stating that the log-in session has expired and instructs them to sign in again.

Log-in credentials (passwords) entered into this file will be disclosed to the scammers behind the spam campaign. This information will allow the criminals to steal the exposed email accounts and potentially cause a variety of damage.

Emails are typically connected to (e.g., used to register) other accounts, platforms, services, and so on. Therefore, through hijacked emails - control may be gained over the content associated with them.

For example, stolen social accounts (e.g., emails, social networking, messengers, etc.) can be used to distribute malware by sharing malicious files and links. Scammers can also use these platforms to steal the owner's identity and ask their contacts for loans. Finance-related accounts (e.g., online banking, e-commerce, etc.) can be used to make fraudulent transactions and/or online purchases.

To summarize, by trusting these "Covid-19 stimulus payment" emails, users can experience severe privacy issues, financial losses, and identity theft. If attempts to sign in through the phishing file have already been made, it is crucial to change the log-in credentials of all potentially compromised accounts and contact their official support.

Threat Summary:
Name Covid-19 stimulus payment Email Scam
Threat Type Phishing, Scam, Social Engineering, Fraud
Fake Claim Scam emails claim to contain a COVID-19 stimulus payment receipt.
Attachment(s) Payment.Reciept.1111333.html (filename may vary)
Detection Names (attachment) Avast (Other:SNH-gen [Phish]), Combo Cleaner (Trojan.Script.GenericKDZ.3438), DrWeb (HTML.FishForm.205), Fortinet (HTML/Agent.BQL!tr), MAX (Malware (ai Score=88)), Full List Of Detections (VirusTotal)
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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Spam campaigns in general

"Office 365 Email Scam", "New mail server system 4.0", "UN Covid-19 stimulus package", and "Lidl email scam" are a couple examples of phishing spam campaigns.

The letters distributed through these massive operations are not used exclusively for phishing, they are also employed to facilitate other scams and to proliferate malware (e.g., trojans, ransomware, etc.). Due to how widespread spam mail is, it is highly recommended to exercise caution with incoming emails and messages.

How do spam campaigns infect computers?

Spam emails can contain malicious files as attachments or download links. These files can be Microsoft Office and PDF documents, archives, executables, JavaScript, etc. When virulent files are opened - malware download/installation is initiated.

For example, Microsoft Office documents infect systems by executing malicious macro commands. This process starts when a document is opened in Microsoft Office versions released prior to 2010. Later versions have "Protected View" mode that prevents automatic macro execution. Users can manually enable macro commands (i.e., editing/content). It is noteworthy that infectious documents often contain deceptive messages intended to trick users into doing so.

How to avoid installation of malware?

Suspicious and irrelevant emails should not be opened, especially any attachments or links found in them - as they are origins of potential system infections. It is advised to use Microsoft Office versions released after 2010.

Aside from spam mail, malware is proliferated via dubious download sources (e.g., Peer-to-Peer sharing networks, unofficial and freeware sites, etc.), software ("cracking") tools, and fake updates. Therefore, it is recommended to download from official/verified sources and activate/update programs with tools provided by genuine developers.

It is paramount to have a dependable anti-virus installed and updated. This software has to be used to perform regular system scans and to remove threats. If you've already opened malicious attachments, we recommend running a scan with Combo Cleaner Antivirus for Windows to automatically eliminate infiltrated malware.

Text presented in the "Covid-19 stimulus payment" scam email letter:

Subject: RE: RE :[EXTERNAL STATEMENT] FW: Receipt Summary

 

FYI

-

Covid-19 stimulus payment complete as instructed.

 

Kindly confirm receipt of payment

 

Regards   
Cahill- Accounts

Screenshot of the phishing file distributed through the "Covid-19 stimulus payment" spam campaign ("Payment.Reciept.1111333.html"):

Covid-19 stimulus payment scam email phishing attachment (Payment.Reciept.1111333.html)

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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.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Why did I receive this email?

Spam emails are not personal; they are sent in large numbers in mass-scale operations.

I have provided my personal information when tricked by this spam email, what should I do?

If you've disclosed account credentials - immediately change the passwords of all possibly exposed accounts and contact their official support. If you've provided other personal information (e.g., ID card details, credit card numbers, etc.) - contact the relevant authorities without delay.

I have read a spam email but didn't open the attachment, is my computer infected?

Infections are triggered when the attachments or links in spam emails are opened/clicked; reading the emails themselves does not pose such a threat.

I have downloaded and opened a file attached to a spam email, is my computer infected?

Whether a system infection occurred depends on the file's format and purpose. In case of the file attached to the "Covid-19 stimulus payment" spam email - it is intended to trick users into disclosing their email account passwords. This file is not designed to trigger malware download/installation, it is a phishing file.

However, the files promoted through spam campaigns are often malicious. Executable files begin infection processes upon being opened; while other formats, such as documents (e.g., .pdf, .doc, etc.) - might require additional actions to trigger such chains.

Will Combo Cleaner remove malware infections present in email attachments?

Yes, Combo Cleaner can detect and eliminate almost all known malware infections. Note that running a full system scan is crucial, as high-end malicious software tends to hide deep in the system.

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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.

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