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Using a VPN? Make sure you don't make this very costly mistake

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Cybercriminals are taking advantage of the disruption to everyday life caused by the pandemic to launch additional cyberattacks and online scams which is why many users have started using a VPN to protect themselves online.

A VPN, or virtual private network, is an increasingly popular tool that secures your internet connection and allows you to browse the web anonymously. This is because a VPN allows you to use a different IP address than the one provided by your Internet Service Provider (ISP) online. Additionally, by changing server locations while connected to a VPN, you can make it appear as if you're in a different state or even in a different country.

While many users stay connected to their VPN at all times for additional security online, this can also have negative effects as shown by a new report from New York's WHEC.

When not to use a VPN

New York State is currently trying to crack down on scammers attempting to collect unemployment benefits they are not entitled to. Unemployment insurance fraud is a very serious matter and unfortunately several innocent New Yorkers are now unable to receive their benefits after logging on to the website of the state's Department of Labor (DOL) while connected to a VPN.

WHEC spoke with Elena Rodriguez who tried to re-certify her benefits online but ended up having her payments stopped due to the fact that DOL thought she was out of the country. Rodriguez provided more details on the situation, saying:

“That evening I got something that said 'we see that you are in Romania,' I was like wait what are you talking about… and then I realized my VPN was on. I just had the VPN for extra security because I heard cyber threats are more increased during this time, so I thought I was being proactive and smart and doing all this. Not for one second did I think it might show that I am not in the country”

Using a VPN while working from home is an additional step people can take to secure their connections and protect their privacy but in this case, it ended up doing more harm than good. While Rodriguez should have turned her VPN off when visiting NYSDOL's website, she wouldn't have run into any issues if she had been connected to a server in New York as opposed to one in Romania. As a general rule of thumb, you will usually see better speeds and less latency when connecting to a VPN server closer to your actual location than to one farther away or in a different country.

Other New Yorkers have run into this problem as well which is why a spokesperson for NYSDOL explained in a statement that users should disable their VPN when visiting its site, saying:

“During this crisis, we have disrupted thousands of fraudulent unemployment claims -- and one of our best tools is flagging claims that appear to originate out of the United States for further review. We continue to remind New Yorkers using VPNs or other 'internet anonymizer' systems to disable those services before applying for benefits or submitting weekly certifications."

  • Also check out our complete list of the best VPN services on the market


Anthony Spadafora

After living and working in South Korea for seven years, Anthony now resides in Houston, Texas where he writes about a variety of technology topics for ITProPortal and TechRadar. He has been a tech enthusiast for as long as he can remember and has spent countless hours researching and tinkering with PCs, mobile phones and game consoles.