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Do not trust emailed files "secured" with your email password on "Google Docs"

Also Known As: Google Docs phishing email
Damage level: Medium

What is "Google Docs email scam"?

"Google Docs email scam" refers to scam campaigns that contain phishing attachments claiming to allow access to securely-stored files on Google Docs. The documents attached to these scam letters promote phishing websites, which typically target email account log-in credentials.

The invoice-related fake "Focke & Co" email (image below) is an example of "Google Docs email scam".

Example of Google Docs email scam

"Google Docs email scam" overview

"Google Docs email scam" letters contain attachments (most commonly PDFs, but they can also be in Microsoft Office, HTML, or other document formats) that promote phishing websites. Under the guise of "Google Docs", the webpages request users to provide sensitive information (usually, email account credentials) in order to access nonexistent files.

These scam emails can have a broad range of disguises. Spam mail is commonly presented as messages/notifications from legitimate service providers, companies, institutions, authorities, and other entities. The actual written content can vary just as much.

To elaborate, the fake "Focke & Co" email with the subject "Very Important" (image above) requests the recipient to review the attached invoice and confirm whether it is correct. After the PDF ("Google.doc 28page.pdf") attached to this letter is opened, it states that the actual file (fake invoice) is secured with the recipient's email and password.

The links in this document redirect to a phishing site, which repeats the bogus security measure and contains input fields for the email credentials. The purpose of such pages is to record and send entered data to their designers. Hence, by attempting to view the document - users will inadvertently expose their email accounts to scammers.

Cyber criminals target emails as they are used to register other accounts, platforms, services, etc. Therefore, via a hijacked email - access/control may be gained over the associated content. For example, scammers can pretend to be a stolen communication/social account's genuine owner and ask contacts/friends for loans or proliferate malware by sharing malicious files/links.

Cyber criminals can use finance-related accounts (e.g., online banking, money transferring, digital wallets, e-commerce, etc.) to make unauthorized transactions and/or online purchases.

To summarize, by trusting the "Google Docs email scam" - users can experience serious privacy issues, financial losses, and identity theft.

If you have already entered your log-in data into a phishing site, we strongly advise changing the passwords of all potentially exposed accounts and contacting their official support without delay.

Threat Summary:
Name Google Docs phishing email
Threat Type Phishing, Scam, Social Engineering, Fraud
Fake Claim Invoice securely sent via Google Docs (fake claims may vary)
Disguise Email from Focke & Co. (disguise may vary)
Attachment(s) Google.doc 28page.pdf (filename may vary)
Detection Names (Google.doc 28page.pdf) N/A (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 campaign examples

We have analyzed countless spam emails; "Adobe Reader File email scam" is practically identical to "Google Docs email scam", while "Annual Open Vacation Plan", "Norton LifeLock email scam", "Your Password Is Set To Expire", "ACHIVA email virus", "I Know That You Cheat On Your Partner", "FedEx Corporation email virus" - are some examples of our latest scam letter finds.

It is worth mentioning that this mail is not used just for phishing and other scams, it is also employed to spread malware (e.g., trojans, ransomware, cryptominers, etc.). Due to the prevalence of spam mail, we advise being cautious with incoming emails and messages.

How do spam campaigns infect computers?

Spam emails proliferate malware via infectious attachments and links contained within them. These files can be executables (.exe, .run, etc.), archives (RAR, ZIP, etc.), Microsoft Office and PDF documents, JavaScript, and so on.

When a virulent file is executed, run, or otherwise opened - malware download/installation is jumpstarted. For example, Microsoft Office documents infect devices by executing malicious macro commands.

How to avoid installation of malware?

We advise against opening the attachments and links found in dubious emails/messages - as that can lead to a system infection. It is crucial to use Microsoft Office versions released after 2010 since they have the "Protected View" mode, which prevents macro command execution from being initiated upon a document's opening.

However, malware is not distributed exclusively through spam mail. Hence, we recommend downloading from official and verified channels. Additionally, all programs must be activated and updated using legitimate functions/tools, as illegal activation tools ("cracks") and third-party updaters may contain malicious software.

We must stress the importance of having a dependable anti-virus installed and kept up-to-date. Security programs must be used to perform regular system scans and to remove threats and issues. 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 this fake "Focke & Co" email letter:

Subject: Very Important


Good morning
find Attached of google docs below to check on the correct invoice.


Kind regards
Susanne Gunter
Focke & Co. (GmbH & Co. KG)
Siemensstr. 10
27283 Verden, Germany
Tel.: +49 4231 991-0
sales@focke_ps.de

Screenshot of the PDF file attachment distributed via "Focke & Co" spam email ("Google.doc 28page.pdf" filename):

Phishing website promoting attachment distributed through a Google Docs email scam campaign (Google.doc 28page.pdf - filename)

Text presented in this PDF document:

Open DOCX File
With Google Docs


This docx is secured with the receiver's email and password.


View online
or
Download pdf

Screenshot of the phishing website promoted by this PDF document:

Phishing website promoted by a Google Docs email scam campaign

Instant automatic malware removal: Manual threat removal might be a lengthy and complicated process that requires advanced computer skills. Combo Cleaner 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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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?

Cyber criminals send spam emails in mass-scale operations with the hopes that some of the recipients will fall for their scams. Therefore, thousands of users receive identical spam letters.

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

If you have provided account credentials - immediately change the passwords of all possibly exposed accounts and inform their official support. And if the disclosed information was of a different personal nature (e.g., ID card details, credit card numbers, etc.) - contact relevant authorities without delay.

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

No, merely opening/reading an email will not trigger any system infection processes. Malware download/installation is initiated when the attachments or links present in spam mail are opened/clicked.

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

If it was an executable (.exe, .run, etc.) - most likely, yes - your system was infected. However, malicious documents (.doc, .xls, .pdf, etc.) may require additional user interaction (e.g., enabling macro commands) - to start downloading/installing malware.

Will Combo Cleaner remove malware infections present in email attachments?

Yes, Combo Cleaner is designed to detect and remove threats. It can eliminate almost all known malware infections. Note that since high-end malicious programs typically hide deep within systems - running a full system scan is a must.

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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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