Legal Threats Are the Latest Phishing Scams
February 6, 2014

Legal Threats Are the Latest Phishing Scams

Perhaps you’ve gotten an email notice that you are scheduled to appear in court or that you must vacate your residence or face forced eviction. And if you’re smart you’ve already deleted said correspondence.

The truth is that these aren’t real and the best advice is to delete it immediately. This is just the latest wave of phishing scams, which look to install malware on a user’s computer.

These cropped up late last year, beginning as court notices. These appear vague, suggesting that the receiver had illegally downloaded software and needed to appear in court. The interesting part of these is that not a lot of time was spent on making these look official.

Instead of court seals or images, the emails are often simple with little details, suggesting that the receiver is to appear in the court of some major city. Moreover, these clearly appear to have been written by someone who speaks English as a second language. In fact, it is telling how obvious these are as spoof emails.

First, no court will ever contact you via email. This just simply isn’t the way it is done. To be called to court requires a subpoena or warrant and this isn’t sent via email. The rational from the senders is likely one where people don’t think before opening.

The idea is one of so-called “shock and awe” on a personal level. People tend to panic when presented with this news and here the senders want to catch us off guard. By reacting too fast we can open a file, which will execute some nasty stuff on the computer – and that’s the trick.

What is more ominous about this is that the court emails have subsided almost as quickly as they arrived. From court summons it quickly moved on to utility bills, claiming that a bill was unpaid and service would be canceled. The MO was the same however; no attempt to look legit.

The latest has been eviction notices, which again are so badly written that you can’t believe anyone would fall for it. Again, English seems to be a second language, with a misunderstanding of sentence structure. One not-so-convincing example read, “Notice to Quit.” Of course, in English we don’t really use the word “quit” to mean vacate.

Other emails suggest failure to “quit” will result in a fine of several times the minimum wage. That is confusing to say the least.

The key is that these are sent out in such massive amounts that it provides just enough information to seem worrisome. Again, all the hackers/scammers want is someone to open the document.

Of course, there are still the usual credit warnings, payroll scams and other phishing scams out there that actually try to look somewhat convincing. There are still the Amazon and Burger King and other reward emails to be wary of, as well.

What is disturbing about this new wave is that it just continues; morphs and looks for the lowest hanging fruit on the tree. Most of us won’t fall for these scams, but the sheer amount of them is what is troubling. This takes bandwidth, fills in-boxes and, of course, can be accidentally opened and executed.

The final part is why the tactics have shifted from convincing to obvious? The reason is likely that it is easier to knock out a simple spoof email. Why invest time and effort when most people will delete it anyway? We’ve been so conditioned not to trust anything that more savvy consumers wouldn’t believe any link.

Thus, the tactic is to go for simple emails and hope someone gets sloppy. The fact is that we should never, ever let our guard down. The hackers will change up their game and we need to always be aware.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer and has covered consumer electronics, technology, electronic entertainment and the fitness sports industry for more than 15 years. In that time his work has appeared in more than three dozen publications including Newsweek, PC Magazine and Wired. His work has also appeared on,,, and Peter is a regular writer for

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