Employees need to be vigilant about physical, digital and financial health
By Emily B. Rose
One hundred years ago, the world confronted the devastating pandemic caused by a respiratory-based virus. From its appearance at the start of 1918 to its disappearance sometime in 1920, an estimated 500 million people—a quarter of the world’s population—caught the Spanish flu, with an estimated 50 million deaths. Unlike before, however, employers are now managing a “twin crisis,” attempting to balance the demands of a public health response with employees facing new and untold legal and financial difficulties, many of which were inconceivable a century ago. To say this challenge for employers is unprecedented is not hyperbole.
Over the coming months, legal and identity theft protection plans will be some of the most crucial benefits employers can offer their employees. Employers have long recognized a need to embrace benefits that cast a wider net of financial protection and offer employees peace of mind. This is never more true than today.
Even before the COVID-19 crisis, legal and identity theft protection plans were benefits desired by employees. Research shows that 89% of employees feel that owning an identity theft product would provide peace of mind knowing their identity is protected. Nearly 50% of employees also felt that their employer should offer a legal protection benefit. With the popularity of these benefits being fully established it also became clear that employers were looking for ways to reduce employee distraction and provide financial wellness benefits to employees. The 2019 LegalShield Workplace Study, for instance, showed that nearly 60% of employees stated they’ve been distracted at work because of a recent data breach or an identity theft matter. More than 60% said they faced a legal event in the last two years, with more than half saying the legal matter negatively impacted their work.
Employers concerned with employee “presenteeism” issues before the COVID-19 pandemic now face the challenges of “stay at home” orders, mandatory 14-day quarantines and social distancing guidelines. By local and state edict, government officials have shown we have the ability to turn any private employer into a “virtual workplace” overnight for the benefit of public health.
In what many are considering the “new normal” environment, there is little doubt that employees are facing a mountain of potential legal concerns which will negatively impact their focus and work performance. In the coming months, some of the personal/financial wellness matters that many employees will encounter include debt collection and other financial matters, consumer protection matters, tax advice, estate planning matters and landlord/tenant issues.
More specifically, these include:
- Estate & Family Planning – Preparation of healthcare directives, powers of attorney, wills and trusts, as well as guardianship documents.
- Consumer/Finance Protection Matters – Assistance with reimbursement for travel cancellations or restrictions, debt collection issues, childcare concerns, reimbursement for inaccessible monthly goods or services (e.g. – gym memberships), or tuition payments for college, private school, daycare or other institutions
- Traffic – Assistance with traffic ticket questions and driver’s license issues when the courts and DMV are closed.
- Real Estate– Assistance with general housing matters, construction/contractor disputes/reimbursements, tenant/landlord matters (e.g. – eviction, security deposit disputes or early lease termination).
Cybercriminals and COVID
In addition to legal concerns, crises like COVID-19 are a breeding ground for cybercriminals. As the need to stay at home increases, more people are turning to the internet for work, shopping and entertainment. Identity thieves are taking advantage of this and have put their hacking skills to work, leaving employees and private company information increasingly at risk. Even before the current crisis, we had seen a dramatic rise of ransomware attacks, holding companies, governments and healthcare providers’ hostage to extortionate demands.
Cybercriminals are actively taking advantage of the increased influx of remote workers, hacking into remote conferencing services and even finding ways to infiltrate home routers, oftentimes redirecting victims to fake COVID-19 themed websites that push malware. With so many employees working remotely, it’s important that employers ensure they are taking proper steps to protect company information as well as employees’ personal information.
The virtual meeting site Zoom, which has skyrocketed to prominence to meet the need for virtual social interactions among employers, educators and family and friends, is a prime example of cybercriminals capitalizing on the current situation. Hackers have found ways to exploit program vulnerabilities to virtually take control of a users’ computer and access their personal information, as well as install malware or spyware. Zoom is working quickly to identify and patch the security bugs, but that’s not the only vulnerability consumers need to be aware of.
Common frauds and online scams to be aware of include charitable solicitation, contractor/vendor invoices, price gouging, property insurance, forgery, unknown health products and malicious websites. A few schemes for employees to be aware of:
- Impersonating health care professionals – Be cautious of unexpected emails claiming to be from health professionals, and don’t click on any links. Always go to the alleged organization’s official website if you want more information.
- Fake work-from-home jobs – Fake employers are having members provide personally identifiable information like SSN and some are asking for a fee, some are asking for bank account information to provide direct deposit of paychecks.
- Stimulus check scams – Hackers are asking people for their online account credentials to deposit stimulus check. Scammers are asking for PayPal account information, SSN and bank account number.
- Donation/charity scams – Do proper research before picking out a charity. Be cautious of causes that demand payment only with cash, money order or gift cards.
- Virus-fighting product claims – Avoid products that specifically claim to be effective against the coronavirus. There currently aren’t any approved products available to treat or prevent the virus, so allegations to the contrary should be a red flag.
At this difficult time, employees need to be vigilant about not only their physical health but also their digital and financial health. For employers hoping to educate employees, LegalShield has created a free resource page (https://covid19.legalshieldbenefits.com/) that is regularly updated with the latest information of concern. The information is equally beneficial for employers and employees, whether they are enrolled in legal and identity theft protection plans or not. Additionally, there are dozens of law firms across the country available for local consultation and ready to serve.
Emily B. Rose is the SVP of sales for LegalShield’s Business Solutions Division. Ms. Rose has over 15 years of experience in the voluntary benefits space, including group legal plans, identity theft protections plans, supplemental health and property and casualty. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.