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Time For a Raise: Why the Salary Update Phishing Scam Still Works

Jul 10, 2024

Phishing scams have been around for years, but cybercriminals are continually refining their techniques to increase their success rates. The “salary update” phishing scam leverages a fundamental human motivator: money. By pretending to offer important information about salary changes or updates, scammers exploit the curiosity and financial concerns of employees. This scam comes out like clockwork every quarter and during period where raised and bonuses are most common, like Christmas.

Why Are “Salary Update” Phishing Scams So Effective?
  1. Trust in Employer Communications: Employees generally trust communications from their HR departments or management. When an email appears to come from a legitimate source within the organization, it is more likely to be opened and acted upon.
  2. Emotional Triggers: Financial matters inherently carry emotional weight. An email suggesting a salary increase or adjustment can trigger immediate interest and a sense of urgency, causing employees to act without thoroughly scrutinizing the message.
  3. Realistic Context: These phishing emails often mimic real-life situations such as annual reviews, promotions, or company-wide salary adjustments. This realism makes it harder for employees to discern the scam.
How Do “Salary Update” Phishing Scams Work?
  1. Spoofed Email Addresses: Scammers often use spoofed email addresses that closely resemble legitimate company email addresses, making the email appear authentic at first glance.
  2. Urgent Language: The email typically contains urgent language, prompting the recipient to act quickly. Phrases like “immediate action required” or “respond within 24 hours” are common.
  3. Malicious Links or Attachments: The email may contain a link to a fake login page or an attachment that, when opened, installs malware on the recipient’s computer. These links and attachments are designed to steal login credentials or deploy ransomware.
  4. Fake HR Portals: Some scams go a step further by creating fake HR portals that mimic the company’s actual HR system. Employees are directed to these portals to log in and view their supposed salary update, inadvertently giving away their credentials.

How to Protect Yourself and Your Organization

  1. Employee Training: Regularly train employees on how to recognize phishing emails. Use real-world examples and simulations to enhance their detection skills.
  2. Email Filtering: Implement advanced email filtering solutions that can detect and block phishing attempts before they reach employees’ inboxes.
  3. Zero Trust Software: Ensure that your employees are not able to automatically download malicious files or download files by mistake. This can prevent damage, even if an employee clicks a link.
  4. Internal Clarity: Set a clear standard within your organization for how pay raises and bonuses are dispersed and discussed. If only an in-person meeting with your manager can lead to a raise, then employees will be more skeptical of HR suddenly emailing them about a raise, or they will at least be more likely to bring it up to their manager.


The “salary update” phishing scam is a potent reminder of the ever-present threat of cybercrime. By understanding the tactics used by scammers and implementing comprehensive security measures, individuals and organizations can significantly reduce their risk of falling victim to these deceptive schemes. Stay vigilant, educate your workforce, and continuously adapt to the evolving landscape of cybersecurity threats.

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