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Work From Home scams: How to Protect Your Employees During Pandemic

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The Covid-19 pandemic has created opportunities for many businesses, as well as for those with bad intentions. It is important for businesses to protect themselves and employees from fraudulent traps during this disruptive period. When work patterns are interrupted, it creates ideal situations for fraudsters to target businesses and the individuals who work in them.

Most Common Scams

Business Email Scams

It’s not difficult for fraudsters to mimic an email address. Especially during a pandemic, it may not raise suspicions if someone were to receive an email from their boss to wire funds to an account.

Business email scams involve emails sent to employees apparently addressed by the CEO or someone from upper-level management, with a request to transfer funds to an account. The email usually claims that it’s a matter of urgency.

I.T. Scams

Similar to the business email scam the I.T. scam also involves someone contacting an employee. This time the scammer is claiming to be from the I.T. department and they need to be given a password to access company data.

The scammer is taking advantage of a good-natured employee’s willingness to be of assistance. The compartmentalization of large organizations aids in taking advantage of the anonymity factor in this blatant fraudulent activity.

Robocall Scams

Automated phone call messages are doing their rounds during the pandemic. The calls make claims that a wide range of products and services are available for businesses. These calls are known to offer everything from Covid-19 testing kits to cleaning and sanitization supplies. With the recent discussion in the media about vaccines, it would not be a surprise if these messages started getting bolder and offering bigger promises around Coronavirus support for small businesses.

Data Scams

Most businesses take advantage of favorable market conditions to increase market share and hacking is no different. With more employees working from home and telecommuting, the technology-savvy fraudster easily makes their way into company data. It is important for a company to maintain data integrity during the pandemic, ensuring that external elements are unable to access the core of the business.

Tools to Reduce Work From Home Scams

Many scams rely on taking advantage of the trust and confidence of employees. It is important to train employees in how to recognize a scam, even though some advice may seem like common sense.

There should be solid rules around company communication. All employees must be made aware of what a scam may sound or look like. Data encryption and integrity are also strong considerations, as well as ensuring there are checks in place before bad decisions are made.

Reverse Lookup Tools to Check Caller or Email Sender

There are many tools that can assist in scam protection. Using a reverse email lookup tool enables users to check to whom an email address belongs. It can also verify a domain and aid in verifying the source of what may be a suspicious contact.

A phone number search will also help identify where a call came from geographically and to whom the number belongs. There are many tools that can aid in finding the source of suspicious contacts.

Online Scams Statistics and Data Breaches During COVID

In the first three months of the pandemic, the government had reports of almost 20,000 cases of fraudulent activity involving scams, at a cost of over $13 million to the unwitting victims. One company paid €1.5 million (US$1.8 million) for Coronavirus masks that never got delivered.

It is not yet known the full extent to which fraudsters have taken advantage of companies and employees with good intentions, but unfortunately, terrible scenarios can foster bad actions from members of society who wish to take advantage of others.

Important tips to share with employees to protect them:

  • Be skeptical – Have employees question every deal and opportunity that they get contacted about. Train employees in email lookup skills to investigate suspicious contacts.
  • Know your business – This includes ensuring that the business has a solid relationship with customers and suppliers alike.
  •  Security – This includes protecting bank accounts and all physical and intellectual property that could be taken by fraudsters.
  • Plan – Make sure that your business has risk mitigation strategies. It can be good to have a tech lockdown in place and ready to go if fraud is suspected.

Conclusion

The Coronavirus pandemic has created the ideal conditions for scammers to make their way into the finances of a business. By offering staff training in scam identification and ensuring your business is secure and protected, you can avoid falling victim to a costly and embarrassing activity. It is worth ensuring that businesses, and ultimately the livelihoods of employees’ are protected.

This blog is printed with permission.

About the Author: Ben Hartwig is a Web Operations Executive at InfoTracer who takes a wide view from the whole system. He authors guides on entire security posture, both physical and cyber. Enjoys sharing the best practices and does it the right way!


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Employers Are Spying on Remote Workers in Their Homes

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The future of work is here, ush­ered in by a glob­al pan­dem­ic. But is it turn­ing employ­ment into a Work­ers’ Par­adise of work­ing at home? Or more of a Big Broth­er panopticon?

Dis­turb­ing increas­es in use of dig­i­tal sur­veil­lance tech­nolo­gies by employ­ers to mon­i­tor their remote work­ers is rais­ing alarm bells. With the num­ber of remote work­ers surg­ing as a result of the pan­dem­ic—42% of U.S. work­ers are now doing their jobs from their kitchens, liv­ing rooms and home offices—a num­ber of employ­ers have begun requir­ing their work­ers to down­load spy­ing soft­ware to their lap­tops and smart­phones. The goal is for busi­ness­es to mon­i­tor what their remote employ­ees do all day, and to track job per­for­mance and pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and reduce so-called “cyber-slack­ing.”

Busi­ness soft­ware prod­ucts from Hub­staff, which tracks a worker’s mouse move­ments, key­board strokes, web­pages vis­it­ed, email, file trans­fers and appli­ca­tions used, are surg­ing in sales. So are sales for TSheets, which work­ers down­load to their smart­phones so that employ­ers can track their loca­tion. Anoth­er prod­uct, called Time Doc­tor, down­loads videos of employ­ees’ screens and uses a com­put­er’s web­cam, which can take a pic­ture of the employ­ee every 10 min­utes. As one work­er who was sub­ject­ed to Time Doc­tor told NPR, “If you’re idle for a few min­utes, if you go to the bath­room or to the kitchen, a pop-up comes up and says, ‘You have 60 sec­onds to start work­ing again or we’re going to pause your time.’” 

Anoth­er sys­tem, Inter­Guard, can be secret­ly installed on work­ers’ com­put­ers. As the Wash­ing­ton Post notes, it “cre­ates a minute-by-minute time­line of every app and web­site they view, cat­e­go­riz­ing each as ‘pro­duc­tive’ or ‘unpro­duc­tive’ and rank­ing work­ers by their ‘pro­duc­tiv­i­ty score.’” Oth­er employ­ers are using a low­er tech approach, requir­ing work­ers to stay on a tele­con­fer­ence like Zoom all day so they can be con­tin­u­al­ly watched.

Since the Covid-19 out­break, one sur­veil­lance com­pa­ny, Aware­ness Tech­nolo­gies, Inc., says it has seen its sales triple. Exec­u­tives at Hub­staff and Tera­mind also say demand for their com­pa­nies’ mon­i­tor­ing prod­ucts have tripled. One web­site show­ing “Employ­ee Mon­i­tor­ing Soft­ware in the USA” lists near­ly 70 com­pa­nies with prod­ucts for sale.

Out­dat­ed laws keep it legal

Online sur­veil­lance of employ­ees may seem inva­sive and creepy, but it is a legal prac­tice in the Unit­ed States. Indi­vid­ual state laws vary over whether com­pa­nies must inform work­ers that they’re using track­ing soft­ware, but in real­i­ty “when you’re on your office com­put­er, you have no pri­va­cy at all,” Lewis Malt­by, pres­i­dent of the Nation­al Workrights Insti­tute, told CNBC. “Any­thing and every­thing you do is prob­a­bly mon­i­tored by your boss.”

Cur­rent laws are vast­ly out­dat­ed, as they are based on the Elec­tron­ic Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Pri­va­cy Act of 1986, when the pri­ma­ry form of elec­tron­ic com­mu­ni­ca­tion was the tele­phone. That was a dis­tant time when desk­top com­put­ers were first becom­ing pop­u­lar, and smart phones were not yet a glint in Steve Jobs’ eye.

And now, in response to the coro­n­avirus out­break, com­pa­nies such as Price­wa­ter­house­C­oop­ers (PwC) and Sales­force have devel­oped intru­sive appli­ca­tions that enable com­pa­nies to con­tin­u­ous­ly track the health sta­tus of their employ­ees. Often they include a sys­tem for track­ing con­tacts between employ­ees with­in an office, and a mobile app for col­lect­ing infor­ma­tion about their health sta­tus. A num­ber of large U.S. employ­ers, includ­ing Ama­zonWal­mart, Home Depot and Star­bucks, are tak­ing the tem­per­a­tures of their employ­ees before they are allowed to work. Cer­tain­ly, employ­ers have a legit­i­mate need to col­lect the nec­es­sary data to safe­guard their work­places, espe­cial­ly in response to a pan­dem­ic. But what is the appro­pri­ate lev­el of “health intru­sion”? How vol­un­tary is the par­tic­i­pa­tion of work­ers, and who gets to decide? 

The real­i­ty of this con­stant Big Broth­er dig­i­tal spy­ing in people’s homes is that dozens of remote work­ers are start­ing to com­plain that they feel burned out by this pres­sure. A recent Fish­bowl sur­vey of major com­pa­nies’ employ­ees found that three-quar­ters of those polled were opposed to using an app or device that allows their com­pa­ny to trace their con­tacts with col­leagues. Yet many fear they will be brand­ed as trou­ble­mak­ers or lose their jobs if they speak out. And since remote work­ers hard­ly see each oth­er—and increas­ing­ly may not even know many of their cowork­ers—these fac­tors will make labor orga­niz­ing and col­lec­tive work­er empow­er­ment increas­ing­ly challenging.

U.S. labor unions have been slow to advo­cate for updat­ing these out­dat­ed laws. One union, the Unit­ed Elec­tri­cal, Radio, and Machine Work­ers of Amer­i­ca, has been work­ing to blunt the worst of the abus­es. Labor-friend­ly media have been miss­ing this sto­ry as well. Not only should unions advo­cate to update the laws and lim­it dig­i­tal spy­ing, but why not also demand that home-based work­ers be com­pen­sat­ed by employ­ers for use of their house, util­i­ties and the inter­net? And that the employ­er remains respon­si­ble to pro­vide equip­ment and a safe work­place, even in the home?

Remote work­force growth—the new normal?

As the num­ber of remote work­ers ris­es, con­cerns are grow­ing among labor advo­cates that this is quick­ly becom­ing the “new nor­mal.” One sur­vey found that 74% of com­pa­nies intend to keep some pro­por­tion of their work­force on a per­ma­nent remote sta­tus, with near­ly a quar­ter of respon­dents say­ing they will move at least 20% of their on-site employ­ees to per­ma­nent remote sta­tus. Google, whose par­ent com­pa­ny is Alpha­bet, recent­ly announced it will keep its 200,000 full-time and con­tract employ­ees home until at least July 2021, and Mark Zucker­berg pre­dicts half of Face­book employ­ees will work from home over the next decade. HUB Inter­na­tion­al, a glob­al insur­ance bro­ker­age, has shift­ed 90% of its 12,000-plus employ­ees to remote sta­tus. Teleper­for­mance, the world’s largest call-cen­ter com­pa­ny, esti­mates that near­ly 155,000 of its employ­ees—almost half its glob­al work­force—will not return to a phys­i­cal work­site. A sur­vey of firms bythe Sur­vey of Busi­ness Uncer­tain­ty found that the share of work­ing days spent at home is expect­ed to increase four­fold from a pre-Covid-19 lev­el of 5 per­cent to 20%. Post-pan­dem­ic, many employ­ees will work from home one to three days a week, and come into the office the rest of the time.

But not all at-home work­ers are cre­at­ed equal. Stan­ford econ­o­mist Nicholas Bloom says “This is gen­er­at­ing a time bomb for inequal­i­ty.” More edu­cat­ed, high­er-earn­ing employ­ees are far more like­ly to work from home, con­tin­u­ing to get paid and advance their careers. But many oth­ers are unable to work from home, often because they lack suit­able space or fast, afford­able inter­net con­nec­tions, and they are being left behind. “They face bleak prospects if their skills and work expe­ri­ence erode dur­ing an extend­ed shut­down and beyond,” says Bloom.

The future of work has become more uncer­tain than ever. In this “brave new world,” labor unions and advo­cates must ensure that the pan­dem­ic is not mis­used by busi­ness­es as an excuse to wors­en con­di­tions for employ­ees who work out of the office. It is easy to imag­ine how the lines between ‘remote’ work and ‘plat­form’ work could blur, lead­ing to more ‘Uber­iza­tion’ as work devolves into ‘inde­pen­dent’ con­tracts, bogus self-employ­ment and ‘pay-by-project’ arrange­ments that can be eas­i­ly out­sourced to remote (and low­er cost) destinations.

Work­er advo­cates must push for a strong and mod­ern legal data pro­tec­tion frame­work. And that should include an effec­tive enforce­ment sys­tem against pri­va­cy abuse that cre­ates a dis­in­cen­tive against ille­gal spy­ing behav­ior. Remote work should not become a down­ward slide toward a Big Broth­er panop­ti­con that pen­e­trates into soci­ety ever more deeply, includ­ing into our homes.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on September 23, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Steven Hill is the author of Raw Deal: How the “Uber Econ­o­my” and Run­away Cap­i­tal­ism Are Screw­ing Amer­i­can Work­ers and The Start­up Illu­sion: How the Inter­net Econ­o­my Threat­ens Our Wel­fare.


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Should Work-From-Home be Mandatory Even after the COVID Pandemic?

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As the pandemic wanes and the world fights to claw its way out of the economic drain, leaders and company executives are trying to figure out how to change with the changing economy. To put the situation in perspective: In 2019, only 3.4% of employees worked remotely. Working from home was considered a job perk and only a select few enjoyed this privilege. Fast-forward to 2020, the percentage of individuals working remotely is now more than 43%. This has been an unanticipated change. People had to adapt as quickly as possible because many businesses were at risk of failing, and leaders needed to act fast!

Adapting to the Setbacks of the Pandemic by Promoting Remote Work

As companies and employees adapt to this new world, executives and team leaders are faced with a harsh truth: the office is not needed after all! A lot of tasks can be accomplished remotely. This realization placed many traditionalists in a tight spot. A decade ago, team leaders countered the idea of remote working by saying workers needed constant supervision for them to be productive. The opposite has now been shown to be true. Remote workers are happier and more productive than their counterparts who commute to the office. With productivity tools readily available, a lot of team leaders now use time tracking apps to monitor their employees remotely. Technology has made it clear that employees do not need an office to be productive.

Should Companies Continue to Pursue Remote Work?

While it’s true that some jobs require physical presence and can’t be done remotely (think of delivery personnel and field workers), the figures are clear on this one, with 77% of remote workers saying they want to continue working from home after the pandemic. Companies are now making policies to accommodate remote working. Workers who can work remotely should be allowed to do so.

Tech giants like Facebook, Twitter, and Google are setting the pace in this regard. Google and Facebook are looking for ways to create a hybrid environment that will allow workers to choose when to commute or telecommute, while Twitter is going for a wholly remote-working team. Other companies are following this path or at least they are considering the possibility. The logic is simple: why waste money on renting office space and paying for employee transport if the job can be done from anywhere? Allowing for remote work also means employers have the advantage of hiring talent from different parts of the globe.

However, not everyone is suited for remote work. 23% of individuals currently being forced to work out of office because of the pandemic cannot wait to resume commuting to the office. This group of people consider themselves to be more productive when in the office and they are eager to leave the house post-pandemic. Trying to figure out how to manage time while working from home isn’t the best idea for this set of individuals. This creates a question: How can companies create a balance and allow for diversity?

Offering Job Flexibility Even After Lockdown Restrictions

The answer to this question is not far-fetched. Building a hybrid team is a great way to create a balance between remote and office work. By giving people the option to choose when to work from home and when to be in the office, companies can build flexibility and make themselves more attractive to their workforce. One way to boost productivity for remote work is to realize that flexibility is important to employees. Even if some of them choose to commute to work daily, knowing they have the option to work remotely whenever they want will increase their loyalty for the company. A research conducted by Owl Labs shows that remote workers stay longer with a company than their counterparts who commute to the office. Individuals who have no option to telecommute are more likely to look for new jobs sooner than later. This means employers who do not allow telecommuting tend to lose more employees. They will also spend extra time and resources trying to hire new talent to fill the vacancy.

In the end, making it mandatory to either work from home or the office is not the answer. Instead, company leaders should look towards implementing policies that can allow employees to choose what works for them. Every employee should have the option to choose when to work from home and when to go to the office. It is time to embrace the new and let go of the old.

About the Author: Ikechukwu Nnabeze is a tech expert and a successful freelancer whose main area of interest is to improve people’s lives with the help of modern technology. His interest in providing practical solutions to real-life tech problems has led him to a successful career in creating content for Traqq. His passion is to help individuals and organizations from all over the world to embrace the life-changing beauty of modern technology. He enjoys poetry in his spare time.


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