Avoid losing your American Express account via fake "Merchant Reward" emails

Also Known As: "American Express Merchant Reward" phishing email
Damage level: Medium

What kind of email is "American Express Merchant Reward"?

After examining the "American Express Merchant Reward" email, we determined that it is fake. This spam letter claims that the recipient has an incoming payment, to receive which – they must update and verify their account. It must be emphasized that this phishing mail is in no way associated with the actual American Express Company.

American Express Merchant Reward email spam campaign

"American Express Merchant Reward" email scam overview

The email with the subject "You Have New Pending Credit Payment on Your Account" (may vary) states that a "Merchant Reward Credit" was issued to the recipient. To accept the supposed $5789.78 payment, the recipient is instructed to download the attached file. Afterward, they are to update and verify their account ownership – thus releasing the payment.

As mentioned in the introduction, all of the claims made by this email are false, and this mail is not associated with the real American Express Company.

Once we inspected the attachment, we found that the HTML file ("Secure_American_Express_Account_Credited_Payment.html") is disguised as the sign-in page for American Express. This attachment is a phishing file designed to record entered information.

After a victim types their American Express account log-in credentials (user ID/ password) into the document, they inadvertently expose this data to cyber criminals.

Stolen finance-related accounts can then be used to make fraudulent transactions and online purchases. While any personally identifiable information can be used to steal the victim's identity.

If you have already disclosed your log-in credentials – immediately change the passwords of all possibly compromised accounts and inform their official support. It may also be necessary to contact the appropriate authorities.

Threat Summary:
Name "American Express Merchant Reward" phishing email
Threat Type Phishing, Scam, Social Engineering, Fraud
Fake Claim Recipient has an incoming payment to their American Express account.
Disguise American Express
Attachment(s) Secure_American_Express_Account_Credited_Payment.html (filename may vary)
Detection Names 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 campaigns in general

We have investigated thousands of spam letters; "Your Mailbox Will Be Temporarily Blocked", "Mail Account Deactivation Notice", and "Final Release Waiver" are merely a few examples of ones used for phishing.

These deceptive emails can target a wide variety of sensitive information, ranging from log-in credentials to personally identifiable details. Spam mail is also used to facilitate other types of scams, such as sextortion, callback, tech support, and so on. Furthermore, these emails are utilized in malware distribution.

How do spam campaigns infect computers?

Spam emails/messages can include virulent files as attachments or download links. These files can be documents (Microsoft Office, Microsoft OneNote, PDF, etc.), archives (RAR, ZIP, etc.), executables (.exe, .run, etc.), JavaScript, and so forth.

Once such a file is opened – the infection process is initiated. However, some formats may require additional user interaction to begin downloading/installing malware. For example, Microsoft Office files need users to enable macro commands (i.e., editing/content), while OneNote documents require them to click on embedded files or links.

How to avoid installation of malware?

We strongly advise exercising caution with incoming emails, PMs/DMs, SMSes, and other messages. The attachments or links found in suspicious/irrelevant mail must not be opened, as they can be infectious. It is important to use post-2010 Microsoft Office versions since they have the "Protected View" mode that prevents automatic macro command execution.

It must be mentioned that malware is not spread exclusively via spam mail. Therefore, we also advise being vigilant while browsing since fraudulent and malicious online content usually appears genuine and innocuous.

Additionally, all downloads must be performed from official and trustworthy sources. Another recommendation is to activate and update software by using functions/tools provided by legitimate developers, as illegal activation tools ("cracks") and third-party updates can contain malware.

It is paramount to have a dependable anti-virus installed and kept updated. Security software must be used to run 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 the "American Express Merchant Reward" spam email letter:

Subject: You Have New Pending Credit Payment on Your Account


Merchant Reward Credit of $5789.78 was issued to your account

For safety reasons, Please download attachment to review payment.
Update and verify your account ownership is required as a means to accept your payment.

Notice: Account wlll be credited within 24hrs after you verify your ownership

Thank you for choosing American Express

Attached phishing file ("Secure_American_Express_Account_Credited_Payment.html"):

American Express Merchant Reward scam email promoted phishing attachment (Secure_American_Express_Account_Credited_Payment.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. Cyber criminals distribute this mail in massive campaigns with the hopes that at least some recipients will fall for their scams.

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

If you have provided your log-in credentials – immediately change the passwords of all potentially exposed accounts and inform their official support. And if you believe that your other private data is at risk (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, clearly reading an email will not initiate any malware download/installation processes. Systems are infected 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 depends on the open file's purpose (i.e., phishing vs. malware download/installation), and its format may also impact that. Executables (.exe, .run, etc.) infect systems almost without fail when they are opened. However, documents (.doc, .xls, .one, .pdf, etc.) might require additional actions (e.g., enabling macro commands, clicking embedded content, etc.) to jumpstart these processes.

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 sophisticated malicious programs usually hide deep within systems – running a complete system scan is crucial.

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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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