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Avoid losing your email account via fake "Board Approved Payroll" emails

Also Known As: "Board Approved Payroll" phishing email
Damage level: Medium

What kind of email is "Board Approved Payroll"?

Our inspection of the "Board Approved Payroll" email revealed that it is spam operating as a phishing scam. It is presented as a notification regarding a shared document containing salary payments. The link to the fake file leads to a phishing site that requests users to provide their email account log-in credentials.

Board Approved Payroll email spam campaign

"Board Approved Payroll" email scam overview

The email with the subject "Here's the document shared with you via Microsoft SharePoint" requests the recipient to review the linked document. The file supposedly contains a salary payment list approved by the board of directors. According to the scam email, the nonexistent document was shared via Microsoft's SharePoint platform.

When we followed the link provided in this letter, it redirected us to a competently made phishing site. The page informed the visitor that - "These files are sensitive and secured against unauthorized access. In order to access this file, please provide your current email credentials, we will connect to your email provider through a secure IMAP channel to authorize your download".

As this is a fake website, the email passwords entered into it will be recorded and sent to the cyber criminals behind this spam campaign. In addition to losing their emails, victims can also have the content registered with the mail stolen.

To elaborate, criminals can use hijacked financial accounts (e.g., online banking, e-commerce, digital wallets, etc.) to make unauthorized transactions and/or online purchases. Scammers can also assume the victim's identity and use their social accounts (e.g., emails, social media, social networking, etc.) to ask the contacts/friends for loans or spread malware by sharing malicious files/links.

To summarize, trusting an email like "Board Approved Payroll" can result in system infections, severe privacy issues, financial losses, and identity theft.

If you have already entered your account credentials into a phishing page, we advise immediately changing the passwords of all possibly compromised accounts and informing their official support.

Threat Summary:
Name "Board Approved Payroll" phishing email
Threat Type Phishing, Scam, Social Engineering, Fraud
Fake Claim Document containing board approved payroll was shared with the recipient.
Disguise Document was shared via Microsoft's SharePoint platform.
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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Phishing spam campaign examples

"Incoming Failed Messages", "Annual Salary Adjustment", and "Email Security Update Scam" are a few examples of phishing emails that we have analyzed recently.

Aside from various scams, this mail is used to proliferate trojans, ransomware, and other malware. Spam letters typically use social engineering to trick recipients, and they can even be disguised as messages from legitimate companies, service providers, organizations, institutions, and other entities.

How do spam campaigns infect computers?

Spam emails can contain virulent files as attachments or links (leading to malicious sites capable of stealthily downloading/installing malware or deceiving visitors into doing so themselves). These files can be executables (.exe, .run, etc.), archives (RAR, ZIP, etc.), Microsoft Office and PDF documents, JavaScript, and so on.

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

How to avoid installation of malware?

We highly recommend being vigilant with incoming emails, DMs/PMs, and other messages. The attachments and links found in dubious/irrelevant mail must not be opened, as they can be malicious and cause infections. It is essential to use Microsoft Office versions released after 2010 since they have the "Protected View" mode that prevents automatic macro execution.

However, malware is not spread exclusively via spam mail. Therefore, we advise downloading only from official/trustworthy sources and activating/updating software with legitimate tools - to avoid having dangerous software infiltrate the system.

Another recommendation is to be cautious when browsing since fraudulent and malicious content usually appears legitimate and innocuous.

We must emphasize 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/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 the "Board Approved Payroll" spam email letter:

Subject: Here's the document shared with you via Microsoft SharePoint


******** April salary payment approval list by the Board Of Directors. Please review and keep for your records.


Board Approved_payroll


******** Server.


Open

Screenshot of the phishing website promoted by the "Board Approved Payroll" spam campaign:

Board Approved Payroll scam email promoted phishing site

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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 mail in massive operations; therefore, thousands of users receive identical emails.

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

If you have provided log-in credentials - change the passwords of all potentially compromised accounts and inform their official support without delay. And if you have disclosed other highly sensitive data (e.g., ID card details, credit card numbers, etc.) - immediately contact the appropriate authorities.

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

No, just opening/reading an email will not initiate any infection processes. Systems are comprised when malicious attachments or links are opened/clicked.

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

Whether your device was infected may depend on the file's format. Executables (.exe, .run, etc.) cause infections almost without fail when they are opened. While document formats (.doc, .xls, .pdf, etc.) may need 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 can detect and eliminate nearly all known malware infections. It must be stressed that since high-end malicious programs typically hide deep within systems - running a complete system scan is paramount for their detection.

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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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