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New “Photo Theft” Email Scam/Malware Distribution

Photo Copyright Email Scam

Late last night, I received a message on my work Email address claiming that one of our properties was using photos without permission from the photographer, “Mel Davis”, threatening legal action if we did not “delete” the photos. The Email message also featured a link to a Google Sites webpage, which downloaded a JavaScript (.JS) file. I clicked the link using a virtual machine because no-one should open a link in an email from someone they don’t know on the everyday computer they use. Even on a Virtual Machine, I did not run the file, although I have to admit I was kinda curious about what it would do.

The first of these Email’s happened to target one of our community websites where the photos featured came from a third party, due to the property being a significant distance from where I am based out of, so we commissioned some photos from a third party company. This is the reason I looked into it, then a second came in for a community website, where I know for sure that all the photos are 100% legal, as I took them myself, which is my preference, to avoid this kind of bullshit from third-party photographers.

I cannot remember the exact file name, but it was something like “phototheft_evidence.js”, As soon as I saw it was a JavaScript file, I deleted it; and closed down the VM. There is no reason for anyone to download a .js file, it’s something that runs from a web server, on the client-side to do something interactive on a webpage. But JavaScript can also be used for nasty stuff like malware, viruses, and ransomware. Bottom line, never click any links in an email from anyone you don’t know.

The Email reads as follows, with the links redacted; the second Email is in the featured image above;

Hi,

This is Melinda and I am a certified photographer.

I was discouraged, to put it nicely, when I came across my images at your web-site. If you use a copyrighted image without my approval, you should be aware that you could be sued by the owner.

It’s illegal to use stolen images and it’s so filthy!

Take a look at this document with the links to my images you used at <link redacted> and my earlier publications to get evidence of my legal copyrights.

Download it now and check this out for yourself:

https://sites.google.com/<redacted>

If you don’t delete the images mentioned in the document above within the next few days, I’ll write a complaint on you to your hosting provider stating that my copyrights have been infringed and I am trying to protect my intellectual property.

And if it doesn’t work, you may be pretty damn sure I am going to report and sue you! And I will not bother myself to let you know of it in advance.

Both messages had a phone number attached, which I will not publish, as I suspect it’s a random number and I don’t want the person who owns that number getting bombarded with phone calls. The names and Email addresses used were Melinda Davis (Mphotographer292@yahoo.com), and Melika Robinson (Melphoto796@hotmail.com). Both messages were the same, except for some small wording changes.

Being someone who is webmaster for literally hundreds of website and listings, I see all sorts of scams in my Email, but this is the first time I have seen someone trying to scam or infect computers with malware, using a cease and desist of photography that has not been licensed from the photographer. As a photographer myself, I protect my work, that is why I took the time to even look into it, as the company who we paid, might not have had the correct licensing deal with the person who actually took the photos.

A bit of advice, if you do use a photographer, ask for a contract which details what is agreed to in terms of number and type of photos. Also, the contract should detail the usage rights, where you can use the photos and the timeframe in which you can use them. In the majority of cases, the photographer will retain the copyright to the photos. If you don’t have a legal contract, you leave yourself open to a photographer coming back to you later demanding more money to continue using the photos or even taking legal action. A photography contract is designed to protect both the client and the photographer.

To be clear, most photographers are honest, hard-working people, but there are some unscrupulous photographers out there, so insist on a contract and read it in its entirety, to protect yourself.

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