Riding on the back of the hundreds of thousands of letters sent out by lawyers to alleged file-sharers demanding settlement for copyright infringement, scammers now want their piece of the pie. Using emails which appear to come from a known copyright holder represented by legitimate lawyers, recipients are getting a familiar message. Pay us a relatively small amount now, the emails say, or things could get a whole lot worse.
Vulnerable file-sharers, be they the users of KaZaA more than half a decade ago or those of BitTorrent today, have always been a target for the unscrupulous to generate cash from. While networks such as FastTrack and Gnutella have long been polluted to crisis point with malware-infested files designed to sit on people’s machines making money for nefarious individuals, BitTorrent has largely avoided this level of corruption, but it’s not immune.
Many torrent sites list huge amounts of ‘fakes’ that when downloaded often encourage users to travel to various websites for ‘activation’ or to install suspicious ‘codecs’ in order to watch, well, not even a movie in most cases. But in recent times BitTorrent users have become susceptible to a more advanced type of revenue generation at their expense, the highly questionable but probably legal “pre-settlement letter” business.
If you asked companies such as ACS:Law what they’re up to they would tell you that they’re operating a legitimate business first tracking and then requesting cash settlements from infringers. But to the many innocent victims caught up in the dragnet, it’s less of a scheme and more of a scam, indistinguishable from the many scams already circulating the Internet which demand or manipulate money from their victims.
Today we bring news of a new operation which takes the work of companies such as ACS:Law as inspiration and uses the fear they generate to frighten Internet users to part with their money.
In an email titled “Investigation Against You” which at first glance appears to come from a bona fide law firm, supposed file-sharers are put on notice that they’re in trouble.
According to the text that follows, the email is being sent by the Rechtsanwalt Florian Giese law firm who claim to be representing the interests of Videorama GmbH, a 40 million euro legitimate company based in Essen, Germany.
“The subject of our assignment is that your Internet connection was used on a so-called peer-to-peer network and committed copyright infringement on works held by our clients,” explains the email which goes on to cite various elements of German law which show that the alleged activity is illegal.
Further information suggests that the recipient’s IP address has been tracked downloading multiple music tracks and that based on this evidence a complaint has been made about him or her to the prosecutor.
Your IP address when the crimes were committed: 84.190.XX.XXX
Illegally downloaded music pieces (mp3): 13
Illegally uploaded music pieces (mp3): 21
“As you may have already noticed from the media, today copyright infringement cases in court usually lead to a large fine and court costs,” warns the letter.
This worrying eventuality is backed up by the citing of a real case from early 2010 where the District Court of Magdeburg sentenced a father to pay 3,000 euros because his son shared 132 MP3s on a file-sharing network some years earlier.
The letter adds that to avoid things getting much worse, including possible house searches and court hearings, the copyright holder is prepared to settle out of court – for 100 euros.
It’s suggested that in order to pay “safely and easily” the letter recipient should deposit the money via Ukash or alternative pay with Paysafecard. The letter is signed ‘Rechtsanwalt Florian Giese’, who are a real-life German law firm.
Except the whole thing is a scam from beginning to end.
“Rechtsanwalt Florian Giese is not responsible for the fraudulent e-mails with the subject ‘investigation against you’. These are spam emails from fraudsters,” the company said in response to the news. The lawfirm also confirmed that Videorama GmbH are also not involved in this scam.
However, the scammers are going to some lengths to give the impression they are legitimate, especially by their use of the email addresses “email@example.com”, “firstname.lastname@example.org”, “Giese@lawyer-giese.info and email@example.com. The lawfirm points out that they only use the domains giese.de and giese.com.
These phony settlement emails have been sent out in large numbers and as a result the Hamburg police are now involved in the investigation. The domain used in connection with the scam, lawyer-giese.info, has been deleted.
To the innocent and particularly the vulnerable with no experience of such matters, this email would seem indistinguishable from the type of correspondence sent out by the likes of ACS:Law. All the elements are there – claims of infringements, very little evidence to back up the claims, threats that things are about to get a whole lot worse and finally an offer to make it all go away for a relatively small amount.
Innocent people have paid up in both scenarios.