An election’s approach always seems to turn up the emotional heat across the nation, and the United States 2022 midterm elections are no exception. On Nov. 8, Texas voters will have an opportunity to decide who will lead their local communities and the Lone Star State into the future. As the election nears, voices arguing for or against key issues are loud and persistent, often fueled by emotional appeals and passionate support. While political campaigns often include unsolicited contact as part of a legitimate outreach effort, bad actors also capitalize on peoples’ passion to trick them into divulging personal information or providing financial contributions.
It is a common tactic for scammers to prey on emotion and exploit vulnerabilities when people deeply care about an ongoing situation or issue. This can often be seen by the frequency of charity and fundraising scams following a natural or manmade disaster. As generous donors look to contribute to ease the suffering of those affected, scammers seek to exploit their kindness for their own benefit. In the political arena, people often participate in polls and surveys because they want their voices to be heard, and scammers use that desire to build trust and steal personal information. Other citizens who want to be involved often donate to the political campaign of their chosen representative because they believe their donation will go to improving their country or community, and scammers are more than willing to take advantage of their beliefs for their own gain.
Elections, by their very nature, are polarizing. It is easy to get swept up in the emotional wave and take risks that you might otherwise avoid. While it is important for the governed to be informed and engaged with the election process, it is equally as important to remain aware of scammers that use elections to initiate contact and steal from the public.
BBB provides the following tips to help identify some common political scams as the midterm election approaches.
Check your email
During general and midterm elections, it can seem like once a candidate or political party gets your email address, you hear from them every time you check your inbox. They may claim they need your help or want to know your point of view through a poll or survey. To support their efforts and make an impact on the future, the email often asks for a donation, a response or certain information about your political beliefs and demographics.
Campaign email is often one of the best ways to communicate with voters who do not have the time to answer a phone call or attend a political rally. However, scammers also can sign up to receive these communications and will mimic their appearance and language. Polls, surveys or donation requests that appeal to your passion, beliefs and desire to take action may also be an attempt to steal your personal information or gain access to your bank account.
If you have signed up to receive communications from a political campaign, those emails should come from a specific email address associated with the representative. Take the time to check the address of the sender and pay close attention to the domain and subdomain. For example, a generic email address for a political campaign may be ‘[email protected],’ which a scammer may change to ‘[email protected].’ Before you donate or give personal information, research the organization that reached out, and be wary of people who try to rush you to make a decision.
Be especially careful of emails with links. Phishing emails might include a link that takes users to a spoofed version of a candidate’s website or installs malware on your device. If you want to receive more information or visit a site, it’s better to type the official website address into your browser. You can also hover your mouse over hyperlinks and compare the web address that pops up with the legitimate web address.
When fraudsters give you a ring
Candidate’s campaigns often canvas their supporters by phone to help determine what voter’s key issues are for an upcoming election. Unfortunately, scammers often do the same thing in an attempt to obtain personal information or money. Criminals pretending to be affiliated with your party or candidate might try to scam you over the phone by asking you to answer survey questions, donate funds or offering to help the victim register to vote. Scammers entice their targets to share personal information such as their Social Security number, birthdate or address in exchange for a prize or gift card, which no legitimate canvasser will ever do.
Trickery by smishing
Smishing is like email scamming, only messages are sent via text. Citizens might receive a message that looks like it came from a trusted source, inviting them to participate in a poll or make a donation by following a provided link, QR code or phone number. Scammers also have been known to spoof phone numbers and caller IDs, making it even more difficult to distinguish between a legitimate outreach attempt and fraud. Just like phishing scams, con artists use smishing to get passwords, account numbers, Social Security numbers or other data. They may also ask personal questions which seem harmless at face value but can be used to answer security questions for your online accounts.
Another type of scam happens when con artists send a text about a problem that doesn’t exist. For example, an individual might get a text that looks like it came from their bank, asking if they made a donation to a candidate, organization or party with a prompt to reply “yes” or “no.” If the person replies no, the scammer calls them and asks for their account login, numbers or password to investigate or dispute the transaction. The person feels fear and an urgent need to act, so they might not think twice about giving up sensitive information.
There’s also the text-your-vote scam. Con artists send text messages urging people to text their vote rather than voting in person or by mail. When voters believe them, they don’t show up to vote, and their chance to participate in elections is lost.
Midterm election cybersecurity tips
- See prizes as a red flag.
- Know what pollsters don’t need. They might ask for demographic information or what party you most align with, but they don’t need personal information like birth dates, social security numbers or financial information. No state offers voter registration by phone.
- Don’t answer unknown numbers. Con artists can’t trick you if they can’t get in touch.
- Listen to your gut. If something seems off, protect yourself. If in doubt, check with your local election office.
- Don’t provide information in response to an unsolicited message.
- Do report suspicious activities to BBB’s Scam Tracker.
BBB provides tips for understanding and managing cybersecurity risks during the 2022 midterms and every other season. To learn more, check out our cybersecurity resources page at BBB.org.