Spam Email Alert: “Stolen Images On Your Website” from Mel the Photographer

There’s a new phishing-type email that’s going out these days that has become so frequent I need to write an alert about it. My clients have gotten alerts like these so often, it’s become almost a weekly affair for me, where I see one of these emails come through a web form on the website, then I have to email the client and say “relax, this is junk—you can safely ignore it.”

Screenshot of a fake email sent by a scammer demanding money for allegedly stolen images.
Have you gotten an email like this?

While each one of these emails is slightly different, it mostly boils down to something like this:

Hello there! This is Meleana and I am a qualified photographer and illustrator. I was baffled, to put it nicely, when I found my images at your web-site. If you use a copyrighted image without an owner’s approval, you must know that you could be sued by the owner. It’s not legal to use stolen images and it’s so selfish!

Here is this document with the links to my images you used at example.com and my earlier publications to obtain the evidence of my legal copyrights. Download it right now and check this out for yourself: https://sites.google.com/view/xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx/drive/folders/storage/sharedfiles/download?l=xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

If you don’t delete the images mentioned in the file above during the next several days, I’ll file a to your hosting provider stating that my copyrights have been severely infringed and I am trying to protect my intellectual property. And if it doesn’t help, for damn sure I am going to take it to court! And you won’t receive the second notice from me.

If you’ve received an email like this, keep the following in mind.


#1: Relax. This is a hoax, and you can ignore it.

This email wasn’t sent by a real photographer. If your website was designed and built by Lieder Digital, there’s no possible way that stolen images were used. If we’re using stock images (which is pretty rare, honestly—we usually have photographers take real footage when possible), they’re properly licensed. We only use (and pay for) legal, licensed stock photos, using legitimate services like Adobe Stock, iStock, Getty Images, and Unsplash.

Plus, as anybody who’s ever been threatened with a real lawsuit knows, if the threat is real, you’ll be receiving an actual letter from an attorney. You won’t be getting a pretend email like this. If someone actually wants to sue you, you will definitely “receive a second notice,” unlike what the spammer says above, and it will be on official letterhead from a real law firm with licensed lawyers.

It should be a dead giveaway if someone emails you out of the blue asking you to click a link that goes to a Google site with a strange URL like that. What they’re trying to get you to do is click a link and pay them money or get your banking information somehow. It’s simple: don’t click the link, and don’t pay them anything.

#3: There’s not much we can do to stop these emails.

The spam filtering Lieder Digital uses standard, is really amazingly powerful. The combination of an anti-spam firewall and a honeypot stops almost 100% of auto-generation spam created by bots. But emails like these are actual form submissions sent by real-life human beings, copying and pasting the same info into forms over and over again. This is almost impossible to prevent.

This type of spammer uses the same basic information but slightly changes the name and email address each time, so we can’t add the email to a blacklist. (Well, we can, but if we add mgallery9256@gmail.com to a blacklist today, this same spammer can simply change the email to mgallery9257@gmail.com tomorrow and get through the spam filter again.

#4: Emails like these are really annoying, but they’re not harmful if you just ignore them.

If you just hit the “delete” button when you get emails like this, you’ll be just fine. Don’t open them, don’t forward them, and don’t click any links in them and you won’t have any issues.

As I mentioned, my clients have gotten these emails so often, it’s becoming old news. I’ve seen at least 26 versions of it. The name and email changes each time, but it’s usually sent by someone claiming to be a person with variations of the name “Mel,” including all of these listed below.

  • Mel Stanton
  • Mel Thomas
  • Mel Berry
  • Mel Taylor
  • Mel Smith
  • Mel Ruiz
  • Mel Munnelly
  • Mel Riley
  • Mel Fox
  • Mel Rosado
  • Mel King
  • Mel Wagner
  • Mel Kahn
  • Mel Alazar
  • Mel Catizone

In fact, what’s strange is that the “Mel” version of the name is also listed as variations of the following full name: Meleana, Meleeora, Meleane, Melisha, Melonie, Melaenis, Meladia, Melanka, Melanie, Melissa, Melynda.

She claims to be located in various places in the world, including: Queens, New York, and Bronx, Arkansas.

Conclusion

It’s all very strange, and while it’s very hard to stop emails like this, you can just delete them. It will take you 10 seconds, and then you can move on with your day. Know that your website is safe and sound, you’re not actually being sued, and there isn’t any poor photographer whose intellectual property has been stolen and is illegally posted on your website.

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Lieder Digital has been designing and building websites and offering digital marketing services for over a dozen years. If you’re looking for a new website, or want to harness the power of the internet to take your business to the next level, get in touch today and we’ll provide you with a free, no-obligation proposal.