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During the second quarter of 2019 Kaspersky experts detected multiple mailshots pretending to be offers for tax refunds worldwide. This period is traditionally used as a deadline for filing tax returns and refunds in many countries. Using the scheme, criminals were trying to steal valuable information, or in some cases, install dangerous spyware. This and other findings are revealed in the Spam and Phishing in Q2 2019 Report.

Spam and phishing malicious letters usually contain links that lead users to a seemingly legitimate webpage, created by fraudsters and aimed at stealing various types of personal information. These mailshots often exploit seasonal activities to strike victims harder than usual fraudulent tricks, as there is less awareness around them compared to permanent threats. What’s more, in the case of temporary disguises, scammers can use one of the most effective social engineering techniques – giving a limited amount of time to act, justifying it with the real-life circumstances, and therefore tilting the victim towards making spontaneous decisions.

The detected wave of tax refund fraud came under the guise of tax refund letters with short expiration dates. For instance, malefactors used fake major UK tax services to urge victims to follow the link and fill out the form immediately, while emails under the guise of the CRA (Canada Revenue Agency) were giving the recipient just 24 hours to respond, otherwise a tax refund would not be possible.


Example of the phishing page disguised as CRA tax refund form

Moreover, some of the emails analysed by Kaspersky experts included malicious attachments, disguised as a copy of the return form which in fact was either a malicious downloader, which would download more malicious programs onto users’ machines when launched, or a backdoor (multifunctional malware) that provided criminals with remote access to the infected machine. Its capabilities include monitoring keystrokes, stealing passwords for browsers and Windows accounts and recording video from the computer’s webcam. To convince users to launch such a malicious file, fraudsters usually would make it look like a zip. file containing important information for tax form updates.

“Seasonal spam and phishing can be extremely effective, since the emergence of such letter in a mailbox is sometimes wished and expected, unlike most “unique offer” – type scams. Moreover, with phishing attacks, the tricked victim might not even realise that it was subjected to a cyberattack and had exposed their credentials or email until it is too late, and they suffer from the consequences. The good news is that there are security solutions that not only block malware from being launched and notify the user about the threat, but also have spam and phishing filters that prevent such emails from appearing in an inbox,” said Maria Vergelis, Security Researcher at Kaspersky.

In the second quarter of 2019, the amount of spam peaked in May (58%). The average share of spam in the world’s email traffic was 55%, which is 5% higher than the average figure in the second quarter of 2018. The overall number of phishing attacks in the quarter rose by 21% compared to the figure a year ago, reaching 129,933,555. China (23.72%) became the most popular source of spam, overtaking the U.S. (13.89%) and Russia (4.83%).

To avoid exposing your personal information and being affected by malicious attachments, users are advised to:

  • Always check the link address and sender’s email before clicking on anything sent to them.
  • Check if the link address can be seen in the email and is the same as the actual hyperlink (the real address the link will take you to). This can be checked by hovering your mouse over the link.
  • Do not download and open email attachments that come from unfamiliar email addresses, before scanning them with a security solution. If the email seems legitimate, it is best to check it by accessing the website of the organisation that supposedly sent it.
  • Never share your sensitive data, such as logins and passwords, bank card data etc., with a third party. Official companies will never ask for data like this via email.
  • Use a reliable security solution with behaviour-based anti-phishing technologies, such as Kaspersky Total Security, to detect and block both spam and phishing attacks and initiation of malicious files.

Read the full text of the report on Securelist.com