The COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to an increase in unemployment fraud scams. Some forms of unemployment fraud involve an employed person collecting unemployment benefits by pretending not to be employed.
However, the type of fraud on the rise due to the pandemic involves scammers soliciting information from others which they can then use to collect unemployment benefits by stealing their identities. Because the COVID-19 pandemic has forced record numbers of Americans to file for unemployment benefits, opportunities for scammers have arguably never been more abundant.
There are numerous ways unemployment fraud scammers may try to collect your information. One of the most common methods is sending phishing emails. A phishing email is a message designed to look as though it’s coming from a legitimate sender—often a trusted company, such as a target’s bank, although it may sometimes be an individual the target knows.
Thus, one way you can avoid being the victim of unemployment fraud is to be familiar with the signs of a phishing email. They include:
Trying to convince you to take action.
A scammer’s goal when sending a phishing email is to convince you to provide information that they can use to steal your identity. As such, phishing emails often encourage readers to take some form of action, such as clicking a link and “signing in” to their account. You won’t actually be signing in to anything, however. You’ll instead be providing a scammer with valuable login information.
The wording of phishing emails also tends to be somewhat urgent or alarming. A scammer may, for instance, claim that suspicious activity has been detected on a target’s bank account, so they need to sign in immediately to protect their finances. Or, a scammer might attempt to scare a target into providing information by saying they’re behind on a bill and need to sign in to their account to make a payment immediately.
Be wary of emails with such messages. If you ever receive one, don’t directly click on any links provided in the email itself. Instead, sign in to your account separately or contact the company directly to confirm the email’s validity.
This is an easy trick that can help you quickly determine whether an email is likely the work of a scammer or not. Again, while you shouldn’t click on any links in these types of emails anyway, you should hover your cursor over any links if the URL is written out in the message itself. On most browsers, hovering a cursor over a link for a moment or so will reveal the actual URL.
Compare the actual URL to the URL written out in the email. If they don’t match, that doesn’t guarantee an email is a scam, but it’s a strong sign of one.
Check for errors.
A phisher’s goal is to ensure an email looks legitimate. For instance, if a phisher wanted to convince you they were sending an email from your bank, they would try to design an email (and any pages the email links to) to reflect the brand of said bank, complete with the proper color scheme, logo, and even fine print.
However, phishers aren’t always skilled or careful enough to create emails and pages that perfectly mirror the brand of a given company. If you suspect you’ve received a phishing email, look for errors that may be a telltale sign of a scam. For example, perhaps after inspecting a scam email pretending to be a message from your bank, you find that the logo is not a perfect match, or the official name of the bank in the fine print is incorrect.
You should also look for grammatical errors. Phishing emails are sometimes the work of scammers who try to maximize their reach by translating the content of a single email into multiple languages. This often results in spelling, syntax, and grammar mistakes.
Don’t just watch for emails!
Scammers don’t merely rely on emails when targeting victims. They’re growing more sophisticated, sometimes using messaging apps and other services to solicit information from targets.
For example, you may use a messaging app to stay in touch with your co-workers throughout the day. A scammer could send a message pretending to be a co-worker and asking for sensitive information. If you receive such a message, reach out to your co-worker through another means of communication (such as a phone call or email) to confirm their request was legitimate before providing any info.
Most importantly, continue to research signs of phishing scams. As targets become more and more familiar with phishing tactics, scammers are coming up with new ways to trick their targets. You’ll be less likely to fall victim to their scams if you stay informed.