Imagine you’re going about your day when suddenly you receive a text from the CEO. The head of the company is asking for your help. They’re out doing customer visits and someone else dropped the ball in providing gift cards. The CEO needs you to buy six $200 gift cards and text the information right away.
The message sender promises to reimburse you before the end of the day. Oh, and by the way, you won’t be able to reach them by phone for the next two hours because they’ll be in meetings. One last thing, this is a high priority. They need those gift cards urgently.
Would this kind of request make you pause and wonder? Or would you quickly pull out your credit card to do as the message asked? A surprising number of employees fall for this gift card scam. There are also many variations. Such as your boss being stuck without gas or some other dire situation that only you can help with.
This scam can come by text message or via email. What happens is that the unsuspecting employee buys the gift cards. They then send the numbers back. They find out later that the real company CEO wasn’t the one that contacted them. It was a phishing scammer. The employee is out of cash.
Without proper training, 32.4% of employees are prone to fall for a phishing scam.
Why do employees fall for phishing scams?
Though the circumstances may be odd, many employees fall for this gift card scam. Hackers use social engineering tactics. They manipulate emotions to get the employee to follow through on the request.
Some of these social engineering tactics illicit the following:
- The employee is afraid of not doing as asked by a superior
- The employee jumps at the chance to save the day
- The employee doesn’t want to let their company down
- The employee may feel they can advance their career by helping
The scam’s message is also crafted in a way to get the employee to act without thinking or checking. It includes a sense of urgency. The CEO needs the gift card details right away. Also, the message notes that the CEO will be out of touch for the next few hours. This decreases the chance the employee will try to contact the real CEO to check the validity of the text.
Illinois Woman Scammed Out of More than $6,000 from a Fake CEO Email
Variations of this scam are prevalent and can lead to significant financial losses. A company isn’t responsible if an employee falls for a scam and purchases gift cards with their own money. In one example, a woman from Palos Hills, Illinois lost over $6,000. This was after getting an email request from who she thought was her company’s CEO. The woman received an email purporting to be from her boss and company CEO. It stated that her boss wanted to send gift cards to some selected staff that had gone above and beyond. The CEO emailed with “Can you help me purchase some gift cards today?” The boss has a reputation for being great to employees, so the email did not seem out of character.
The woman ended up purchasing over $6,500 in gift cards that the scammer then stole. When she saw her boss a little while later, her boss knew nothing about the gift card request. The woman realized she was the victim of a scam.
Tips for Avoiding Costly Phishing Scams
Always Double Check Unusual Requests
Despite what a message might say about being unreachable, check in person or by phone anyhow. If you receive any unusual requests or one relating to money, verify it. Contact the person through other means to make sure it’s legitimate.
Don’t React Emotionally
Scammers often try to get victims to act before the have time to think. Just a few minutes of sitting back and looking at a message objectively is often all that’s needed to realize it’s a scam. Don’t react emotionally, instead ask if this seems real or is it out of the ordinary.
Get a Second Opinion
Ask a colleague or better yet, your company’s IT service provider, to take a look at the message. Getting a second opinion keeps you from reacting right away. It can save you from making a costly judgement error.
Need help with employee security awareness training?
Phishing keeps getting more sophisticated all the time. Make sure your employee security awareness training is up to date. Contact us to learn more about our security awareness training program to strengthen your team’s defenses.