Job hunters have long been warned to watch out for the fake texts from phony employers and those $30-an-hour, work-from-home job descriptions that sound just too good to be true.
Now, those who remain on the job must worry about the phony pink slip.
As fear increasingly factors into our financial future, scammers have figured out yet another way to get people who are already on edge to quickly “click here” via a phishing email. And they’re playing up two of our biggest worries: Getting sick or getting fired.
Many people likely haven’t heard much about this scam yet. But fraudsters have been sending out large volumes of termination notices during the pandemic, according to Jessica Dore, an expert in technology risk management and a principal with Rehmann in the Saginaw, Michigan, office.
“What they’re playing on is everybody not working in an office environment,” Dore said.
Just a year ago, you might have picked up some layoff buzz at the cafeteria or Starbucks near the office. Now, employees are more isolated and, perhaps, more easily caught off guard. And the scammers know it.
Cyber criminals are targeting employees who are working remotely with fraudulent termination phishing emails and invites to Video Tele-Conference meetings, according to federal authorities.
As part of the phishing email or text, you might be asked to click on a link to receive more information about a severance package.
If you fall for it, and click on a link, you might end up downloading malicious code onto your computer to allow the hacker to create a backdoor to access information. Or the scammer might have engineered another way to collect your Social Security number or log-in information.
If you’re alarmed by receiving an email related to your termination, you might act before you spot that the spoofed email address looks like your company’s real email address but is still off the mark in one fashion or another.
In general, it’s best to reach out to the Human Resources department or your manager before clicking on any link involving a termination notice.
Given that so many people are working from home, and will continue to do so in 2020, it’s especially important to make sure that employees are aware of security threats, Dore said.
Multifactor authentication is key, she said, adding another layer of security, especially because many people tend to use passwords that can be way too easily hacked by fraudsters, such as passwords like Summer2020. Tip: You don’t want to use the season and the year for a password.
Coronavirus chaos opens doors for fraud
COVID-19 – and the economic uncertainty of 2020 – created more opportunities for scammers to trick people out of their money and their important personal data.
The Federal Trade Commission reported that it has received 83,858 fraud reports this year through Aug. 9 relating to COVID-19 and the economic stimulus packages.
Consumers lost $105.7 million to such scams nationwide. Some of the big scams connect to online shopping where some masks or cleaning products never arrive, vacations that are tough to cancel, and the other schemes relating to the virus itself. The median fraud loss nationwide was $280.
In Michigan, consumers reported 2,172 fraud attempts with $2.81 million being lost to scammers, according to FTC data. The median fraud loss was $258.
“And we know this is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Jon Miller Steiger, director of the East Central Region for the FTC. The regional office, based in Cleveland, serves Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and the District of Columbia.
“They’re hoping to catch people with their guard down,” Steiger said.
Many times, consumers don’t report when they’ve been ripped off. Consumers can file complaints at ftc.gov/complaint. A special link on top of that page allows you to highlight consumer complaints related to the coronavirus. Or call the FTC’s consumer response center 877-382-4357.
Maybe you don’t know someone who tested positive for COVID-19
One area of particular concern going forward involves fraud relating to scammers who are attempting to impersonate contact tracers who will alert you to the possibility that you were near someone who tested positive for COVID-19.
“Some scammers are pretending to be contact tracers so they can profit off of the current confusion,” according to an FTC alert.
“They’re trying to steal your identity, your money — or both.”
Depending on how a state has set up its program, legitimate contact tracers may call, email, or text to collect information.
But you need to watch out for red flags that indicate a scam. For example, a contact tracer is not going to ask you for money, your credit card number to pay for a service or your Social Security number to verify anything.
Don’t fall for a pitch from a caller who supposedly needs your credit card information and mailing address, so they can mail you a test kit.
Don’t share your immigration status with someone claiming to be a contact tracer. Don’t download anything or click on any links that were supposedly sent by a contact tracer.
Con artists posing as contact tracers have begun sending out bogus texts and emails asking for bank account information, Social Security numbers, and money, according to the Department of Justice in a joint statement this summer with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Trade Commission.
“Their goal is to get money, Social Security numbers, or other sensitive information not required for authentic contact tracing,” federal authorities said.
“Clicking on a link in the text message or email will download malware onto your device, giving scammers access to your personal and financial information.”
The best advice is to ignore and delete scam messages.
“We’re seeing for the most part variations on scams we’ve seen before,” Steiger said.
Scammers use the pandemic in much the same way that they’d tap into confusion after a hurricane or other disaster.
While scammers target both younger and older consumers, Steiger said, there’s some concern that younger consumers might be more willing to click on a link because they’re so used to getting information that way.
And since plenty of people remain out of work, scammers have another plan of attack for that scenario too.
The fraudsters are even offering fake contact tracing jobs to collect both Social Security numbers and fees.
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