Huge wave of fake file sharing warning letters hits Germany

Thousands of internet users in Germany have received e-mails purporting to be from well-known German law firms active in the area of file sharing. The e-mails demand payment of up to €500. However, the e-mails are fake and part of a huge file sharing scam.

Huge wave of fake file sharing warning letters hits Germany © Benjamin-Duda-Fotolia

Huge wave of fake file sharing warning letters hits Germany © Benjamin-Duda-Fotolia

Fake file sharing letters

Tens of thousands of internet users in Germany have received e-mails purportedly from well-known German law firms active in the area of file sharing. The sender demands payment of between 200 and 500 euros.

Many people are left unsure and click on the zip file attached to the e-mail which supposedly contains further information. However, the zip file is actually a Trojan. It is thought that the perpetrators’ underlying aim is not to receive payment of the money demanded, but to spread the Trojan in order to later cause more significant commercial damage.

Legitimate law firms active in the area of file sharing have attempted to warn internet users through press releases. But the confusion created by the scam is widespread.

German lawyer, Christian Solmecke, who represents thousands of “legitimate” warning letter recipients, explains: “On Monday morning alone, hundreds of people rang our offices. Every second, we are receiving more and more requests for assistance.

“It seems the fake file sharing e-mails were sent using the names of real law firms and that this has led recipients into believing that the e-mails are real.

“The last scam involving fake file sharing warning letters occurred shortly after the notorious Redtube warning letters were sent. As the method used in the two scams is very similar, the perpetrators could be the same people.

“Even though the e-mail may appear to be from a real law firm, they are fraudulent. We assume that several tens of thousands of people have received these fake warning letters.”

How to recognise the fake file sharing warning letters

The following characteristics suggest that a warning letter may be fake:

  1. The warning letters are sent by e-mail. Although warning letters sent by e-mail are generally valid, this method is used only rarely.
  2. No request is made for an undertaking to cease and desist. Generally, legitimate warning letters always require the recipient to submit an undertaking to cease and desist.
  3. Payment is requested within 48 hours. Although legitimate warning letters often contain short deadlines for payment of the compensation demanded, 48 hours is unusually short and is an indication that the warning letter is fake.
  4. The e-mail requests that the recipient opens a zip file. No serious company would require recipients to open a zip file. In this case, the file probably contains a virus. The file should therefore be left unopened and the e-mail should be placed in the recycle bin.

Common characteristics

The fake file sharing warning letter e-mails have a number of common features. For example, they all alleged an infringement of s.19a German Copyright Act and demand payment of between 200 and 500 euros. They are also all sent using the name of well-known law firms including Schulenberg & Schenk, Zimmermann & Decker, Kornmeier & Partner, Sasse & Partner and Daniel Sebastian.

Law firms distance themselves

In the meantime, legitimate file sharing law firms have distanced themselves by releasing press releases in which they explain that perpetrators have attempted to spread spam and viruses in their names.

The German law firm, Sasse & Partner, reiterated that it would never send a warning letter as a zip file. The firm stated it would press criminal charges and that it has placed a clear warning on its website.

What to do

If you have received a file sharing warning letter per e-mail which you suspect is fake, it is highly advisable not to open the zip file attachment or to pay the sum being demanded. If you are unsure about what do, contact us.

Christian Solmecke is a partner at the law firm WILDE BEUGER SOLMECKE. He is the author of numerous legal publications in the area of internet and IT law. He is also an associate lecturer for social media law at the Cologne University of Applied Sciences.

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