‘Trolling people?’ Fairfax Co. schools phishing test promised teachers end-of-year gift card

Some Fairfax County Public School teachers are frustrated, after an email offering educators gift cards for their work during the school year turned out to be a phishing test.

David Walrod, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, said the email was sent Friday, as students were arriving for the last day of school.

It was intended to be a test of sorts — teachers who clicked the link were directed to a cybersecurity page with information about phishing. If teachers click the links in test emails enough times, they have to complete mandatory professional development, Walrod said.

Friday’s message said: “Fairfax County Public Schools and Company Rewards have partnered to provide gift cards to our employees as a thank you for another successful school year. To redeem your thank you gift card, please login to the Company Rewards portal found here: company-rewards.org.”

While it’s sometimes easy to identify phishing emails, Walrod said, Virginia’s largest school system made it look official.

The Washington Post was the first to report the Friday phishing test.

“A lot of teachers got it, thinking, ‘Hey, I’m about to get appreciation from my district,’ only to find out that, no, it really amounted to the district kind of trolling people,” Walrod said.

The email’s message wasn’t well received, Walrod said.

“A lot of folks understand we need to take methods for cybersecurity,” Walrod said. “It’s something that needs to be taken seriously. For a lot of people, getting that message was essentially the district trolling us on the last day.”

Soon after the email went out, Walrod said Superintendent Michelle Reid sent another message, apologizing for the initial email and explaining that the school system appreciates the work educators have done during the school year.

Fairfax County has sent out periodic phishing tests ever since a 2020 cybersecurity incident involving a ransomware attack.

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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