Many businesses in California and across the United States were forced to lay off employees or close down because of the pandemic, leaving many people jobless. In fact, as of February 2021, there were 10 million unemployed people in America.
Those who lost their jobs normally apply for unemployment benefits and workers’ compensation through state workforce agency (SWA) websites. However, they must double-check the page they’re visiting, as cybercriminals have been imitating these websites for their personal and financial gain.
According to the US Department of Justice, the fraudsters typically send spam text messages and emails claiming to be from an SWA. These messages contain a link that, when clicked, opens a website that imitates legitimate SWA websites to convince the recipient to apply for unemployment benefits.
Once they do, however, any sensitive information they enter, like date of birth, Social Security number, credit card numbers, and bank account numbers, will be sent to cybercriminals. The data will be used to commit identity or financial theft, or sold on the dark web for a profit.
A classic phishing attack
The unemployment benefits scam is an example of a phishing attack. In an email phishing attack, cybercriminals pretending to be part of a trusted company or government agency send emails that trick recipients into submitting their confidential information.
The hackers will typically use a spoofed link — i.e., a link that looks almost exactly like the link of a legitimate website. For example, if California’s Unemployment Insurance Program website URL is www.edd.ca.gov/Unemployment/, cybercriminals may use a similar-looking URL like www.eddca.com.info/Unemployment. Because unemployed people urgently need financial aid, they may not double-check the legitimacy of the website they’re on.
Sometimes, phishing emails may contain attachments that harm a recipient’s computer when downloaded and opened. For example, hackers can inject a malicious macro code into a document that seems to be an unemployment benefit application form. They then instruct the recipient to enable macros so the document can be displayed properly. However, doing so infects the host computer with malware that can steal data or corrupt the system.
In an email phishing attack, cybercriminals pretending to be part of a trusted company or government agency send emails that trick recipients into submitting their confidential information.
How can consumers protect themselves from unemployment benefits scams?
People should never click on links in text messages or emails offering unemployment insurance benefits. If they need to file an unemployment insurance claim, they can visit their respective state’s workforce agency website. And once they receive a text message or email about their application, they need to contact their SWA directly.
If consumers receive a potentially fraudulent text message or email from an entity claiming to be an SWA, they should report it to the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) by visiting their website or calling 866-720-5721. They can also report it to the Federal Trade Commission.
It’s important to note that legitimate SWAs will never contact individuals directly to have them apply for unemployment benefits. Any communication with these organizations must be initiated by the applicant.
Here are a few more best practices consumers can try to protect themselves from online scams:
- Enable multifactor authentication (MFA). MFA verifies the identity of a user by asking for another verification method on top of a password. This could be in the form of a one-time passcode, smartphone prompt, physical security key, or a fingerprint or facial scan. Even if an attacker gets a hold of a user’s login credentials, they won’t be able to access the account without fulfilling the subsequent authentication requirements.
- Check for HTTPS on the browser address bar. HTTPS uses the Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocol to encrypt communications so that cybercriminals can't steal data. TLS also prevents entity impersonation by confirming that a website is legitimate. If the website uses HTTP instead of HTTPS, then it could be malicious.
- Keep antivirus definitions updated. Cybercriminals are constantly updating their phishing techniques. Keeping antivirus definitions updated ensures that the program can block new malware and phishing attacks.
- Utilize anti-spam software. Anti-spam software filters out a significant amount of phishing emails that would otherwise end up in an inbox, protecting users from identity and financial theft.
Complete Document Solutions provides small- to mid-sized businesses in California with powerful protection against cyberthreats. Aside from detecting and removing harmful programs, we also encrypt email and website traffic to ensure data security. To learn more about essential cybersecurity solutions for businesses, download our FREE eBook today.