Protect Yourself from Scammers at Work

Falling for scams online or over the phone at work can impact your job.  At the least, they are time wasters.  At worst, they can make you download malicious viruses or malware and crash your computer, or even the whole network.

Common email scams include:

The errant package

You get an email that appears to be from FedEx or UPS about a misdirected package.  You are then invited to click a link to retrieve the information.  You click the link and unleash a virus onto your computer, causing your IT person to hit you in the head with a hard drive.

PREVENTION:  Delete immediately.

Bogus warnings

The email warns of a major virus attack, or some vaguely urban legend-sounding thing like evil house plants or death by light bulb.  This might just be a hoax warning designed to waste time, but if it contains an attachment or link, don’t click it.

PREVENTION:  Your IT professional should be up on the latest threats to your system.  Take warnings from that person seriously.  Delete or block emails from unfamiliar sources and don’t forward these warnings to other people. You can check if it’s legit at

Payment transfer scams        

The email asks you to receive a payment, then cash the check through your bank and forward the money back to the sender.  You keep a percentage of the money “for your trouble.”

PREVENTION:  Ignore it.  This is money laundering.  The check is bogus, and when it bounces you’ll be on the hook for it.

Government agencies

“An email from the IRS!  Am I in trouble?”  You will be if you click this one.  The IRS, the FBI, DEA, etc. will not email you.  They will always, always either send you a letter or show up on your doorstep.

The Federal Trade Commission posts great information about phishing emails here.  You can also sign up with the FBI for updates on e-scams here.

PREVENTION:  Don’t worry about emails from the IRS.  If you’re in trouble with them, you’ll know it.

Office personnel who answer the phone are prey to scams as well.  A good receptionist will filter these calls, but if one gets through, you’ll be armed against the scammers.  If you’re freelancing and have a business line, you need to know how to screen these calls yourself.

The toner scam

“Hi! This is [fake name], for customer service on your copier!  What was the model number again?”

This scam is designed to get you to reveal information.  Then you get a box of junk toner you didn’t order and a bill for $600.

PREVENTION:  If you get this call, hang up.  Most offices lease copiers and fax machines and have a service contract with the vendor.  The vendor doesn’t call you; you call them when the machine needs repair, toner, etc.  If you ask the caller what company she’s with, she’ll hang up.

Yellow Page listings

This scam wants you to say the word “Yes.”  They get you on tape and then claim you agreed to the outrageously expensive goods or services, which you may or may not receive.

PREVENTION:  Just say “No” or hang up.  NEVER say the words “Yes” or “Okay.”

Newsletter scam

The caller will ask if you’d like a free copy of a trade newsletter.  What they don’t tell you is if you accept, you agree to a subscription that costs upward of $200.

PREVENTION:  Once again, never say “Yes” or “Okay.”

Tell callers you don’t do business over the phone, and ask them to mail you information.  If they can’t or won’t do that, chances are it’s a scam.

A little due diligence can save you and your employer a great deal of trouble.


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