This week health workers and other staff at Oregon Health and Science University were promised several thousand dollars as part of a COVID-19 hardship bonus. But the email was fake, and it was sent by their own administrators.

The email promised up to $7,500 in assistance “to all employees who are experiencing financial hardship as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.”

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“Supporting our employees, and community is essential during these challenging times,” it concluded.

An email promising several thousand dollars for OHSU employees as a COVID-19 hardship bonus was actually a phishing exercise — a way to train employees not to be tricked by scams. OHSU workers weren’t getting a bonus after all.

An email promising several thousand dollars for OHSU employees as a COVID-19 hardship bonus was actually a phishing exercise — a way to train employees not to be tricked by scams. OHSU workers weren’t getting a bonus after all.

OHSU LIBRARY/Cyril "Kent" Anderson

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The email, first reported by the Willamette Week, included a link that took workers to a web page announcing that the email was a phishing exercise — a way to train employees not to be tricked by scams. OHSU workers weren’t getting a bonus after all.

“It was a tone-deaf response to everything we’ve been experiencing with COVID,” said OHSU registered nurse Natasha Swartz. “The hospital knows how much everyone is just struggling emotionally regarding the amount of extra work we’ve had to put in and the amount of loss we’ve seen over the last two years.”

OHSU later apologized for the email and deleted it from staffers’ inboxes.

In a statement, OHSU administrators called the phishing exercise a “mistake.” They said the email used the same language from a real phishing email that was sent to thousands of staffers.

“The real scam was insensitive and exploitive [sic] of OHSU members — and the attempt to educate members felt the same way, causing confusion and concern,” it reads.


Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story did not mention that the phishing exercise email sent to OHSU staff by its administrators mirrored a real phishing email. This story has been updated to include that context.

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