Got an email saying Trump’s quitting the race? It’s a scam

There’s another reason why Americans might be feeling stressed out about the presidential election: computer security experts are noting a rise in phishing attacks tied to the big vote on Nov. 8.

Perhaps it was inevitable that hackers would turn their wiles to preying on voters’ fears, given the heat of the current race. Phishing attacks have focused on emails with subject lines such as “Update your voter registration,” as well as candidate-specific come-ons such as, “Trump Withdraws from Presidential Race” and “Hillary Clinton Indicted by FBI on Email Scandal.” The hackers’ goals are to persuade consumers to provide them with personal data, such as their Social Security numbers, or to download malware. 

The rise in election-themed phishing has prompted warnings from security firms, as well as institutions such as colleges that are warning their students not to fall for the bait.

While hacked email has been a focus in the presidential race, most voters probably aren’t suspecting that their own accounts could be included. Criminals often tie their phishing attacks to upcoming events or deadlines, such as the Olympics or around tax season. While this presidential election is providing fertile ground for hackers, they appear to be focusing their efforts around just one candidate.

Republican candidate Donald Trump was the “lure” in the majority of election-themed phishing emails analyzed in August by security firm Proofpoint.In fact, the GOP candidate appeared in about 169 times as many emails as did Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, according to its analysis of spam and phishing messages.

“People should expect that the theme of the election will be used as a lure -- whether it’s to influence the election or not,” Oren Falkowitz, CEO of Area 1 Security, told Bloomberg News. “It’s part of the dynamic that people are going to use to gain access and to cause harm.”

Voters may end up inadvertently clicking on a link or downloading an attachment that puts malware on their computers, or convinces them to enter their personal information. Voting registration emails may be one way that hackers “phish” for consumers’ personal information.

Fake news reports about Trump or Clinton are another trick that scammers are testing. One phishing attempt highlighted by Proofpoint showed an email purporting to be a CNN story with the headline: “Trump: I Uncovered a Secret.” The bottom of the email asks recipients to “click here.” Scammers are faking both liberal and conservative news outlets as a way to lower consumers’ guards, Proofpoint said.

Other emails dangle bait with messages like “Get rich/smart like Trump,” or ask consumers to log into their email accounts to take part in a voter poll.