Avoid getting scammed by fake "Deceased Relative" emails

Also Known As: "Deceased Relative" phishing email
Damage level: Medium

What kind of email is "Deceased Relative"?

Our inspection of the "Deceased Relative" email revealed that it is spam. This phishing mail is presented as a letter from an attorney who had represented the recipient's deceased relative. As the next of kin, the recipient is supposedly entitled to a large sum.

Spam emails of this kind target personally identifiable information and may trick victims into transferring money to the scammers.

Deceased Relative email spam campaign

"Deceased Relative" email scam overview

The scam email with the subject "James Arthur" (may vary) states that the sender was a "legal attorney representative" of the recipient's relative, who has since passed. The deceased relation had worked in the sender's country (which is unspecified) and, prior to their death, had deposited $25,829,031 to a local financial institution.

The sender expresses their wish to represent the recipient as the next of kin in their request for an apportioning of the funds. The recipient is asked to provide their complete personal information (although the email only lists "full name" and "phone number") in order to proceed.

As indicated in the introduction, all the claims made by the letter are false, and this mail is in no way associated with any real individuals.

It is not unlikely that this scam mail will ask for more information, such as additional private details and/or finance-related data (e.g., online bank account log-in credentials, banking account details, credit card numbers, etc.) – once the victim establishes contact with the scammers.

Exposed personally identifiable details can be used to steal victims' identities or to carry out other nefarious deeds. Financial data may be used to facilitate fraudulent transactions or online purchases.

Alternatively, cyber criminals may ask victims to pay fake fees or use other bogus reasons to get sent money. To minimize chances of criminal persecution and fund retrieval – scammers prefer difficult-to-trace methods for obtaining money, e.g., cryptocurrencies, pre-paid vouchers, gift cards, or cash hidden in packages and shipped.

In summary, by trusting an email like "Deceased Relative" – users can experience severe privacy issues, financial losses, and even identity theft.

If you have already provided your private data to scammers (e.g., ID card details, passport photos/scans, credit card numbers, etc.) – immediately contact the appropriate authorities.

Threat Summary:
Name "Deceased Relative" phishing email
Threat Type Phishing, Scam, Social Engineering, Fraud
Fake Claim Recipient is entitled to inherit a large sum from a deceased relative.
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

"Unsuccessful Search For Relatives", "Documents And Funds Have Been Credited", "Password Marked For Deletion", and "Web Mail Scam" are just a few examples of phishing emails we have analyzed recently.

This mail can target a wide variety of data; most commonly, account log-in credentials, personally identifiable details, credit card numbers, etc.

Spam letters are used to promote various scams and even to spread malware. The emails can be basic and riddled with grammatical/spelling errors or competently crafted as messages from legitimate service providers, companies, organizations, authorities, or other entities.

How do spam campaigns infect computers?

Spam campaigns are often utilized in malware distribution. These emails/messages can include malicious files as attachments or download links. Virulent files come in various formats, e.g., executables (.exe, .run, etc.), archives (ZIP, RAR, etc.), documents (Microsoft Office, Microsoft OneNote, PDF, etc.), JavaScript, and so forth.

Once a malicious file is opened – the system infection process is triggered. However, some formats may need additional interaction to jumpstart malware download/installation chains. For example, Microsoft Office files require users to enable macro commands (i.e., editing/content), while OneNote documents need them to click on embedded files or links.

How to avoid installation of malware?

We strongly recommend exercising caution with incoming emails, PMs/DMs, SMSes, and other messages. Attachments or links found in suspect/irrelevant mail must not be opened, as they can be infectious. Another recommendation is to use post-2010 Microsoft Office versions since their "Protected View" mode prevents automatic macro execution.

However, malware is not proliferated exclusively through spam mail. Therefore, we also advise being careful while browsing, as fake and dangerous online content usually appears genuine and harmless.

Furthermore, all downloads must be performed from official and verified channels. It is just as important to activate and update software by using legitimate functions/tools, as illegal activation ("cracking") tools and third-party updaters may contain malware.

We must stress that having a reputable anti-virus installed and kept updated is paramount to device/user safety. Security programs must be used to run regular system scans and to remove detected 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 "Deceased Relative" spam email letter:

Subject: James Arthur

Attention: Please!

I'm James Arthur, I was the legal Attorney Representative to a member of your deceased relative from your country who used to work as a contractor here in my country. He deposited a huge sum of $25,829,031.00 in a financial institution before he died.

I want to present you as his legal next of kin to the bank where he deposited the money due to the fact that you are a foreigner and from the same country of the deceased, so that you and I may be entitled to request and receive the fund in its own name that you are a member of the family to receive the money on behalf of the deceased.

I will inform you more as I hope to hear from you soon.

If you are interested I want you to send me complete personal information like your full name, phone number that will allow me to provide you with full details of the transaction to enable us proceed without further delay

Remain blessed
Lawyer. James Arthur

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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 distribute spam emails by the thousand with the hopes that at least some recipients will fall for the 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 – change the passwords of all possibly exposed accounts and inform their official support without delay. And if you've disclosed other private data (e.g., ID card details, passport scans/photos, credit card numbers, etc.) – immediately contact relevant authorities.

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

No, devices are infected when malicious attachments or links are opened – merely reading an email is not enough to trigger infection processes.

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

Whether your device was infected might depend on the opened file's format. If it was an executable (.exe, .run, etc.) – most likely, yes. However, you might have avoided triggering an infection if it was a document (.doc, .pdf, .xls, .one, etc.). These formats can require additional user interaction to initiate malware download/installation (e.g., enabling macro commands, clicking embedded content, etc.).

Will Combo Cleaner remove malware infections present in email attachments?

Yes, Combo Cleaner is capable of detecting and eliminating nearly all known malware infections. Keep in mind that since high-end malicious software typically hides deep within systems – performing a complete system scan is essential.

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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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