Tips for recognizing and avoiding phishing emails - COVID-19 scams

Here are some ways to recognize and avoid phishing emails.

Like other types of phishing emails, the email messages usually try to lure you into clicking on a link or providing personal information that can be used to commit fraud or identity theft. Here’s some tips to avoid getting tricked.

  • Beware of online requests for personal information. A coronavirus-themed email that seeks personal information like identification numbers or login information is a phishing scam. Legitimate government agencies won’t ask for that information. Never respond to the email with your personal data.
  • Check the email address or link. You can inspect a link by hovering your mouse button over the URL to see where it leads. Sometimes, it’s obvious the web address is not legitimate. But keep in mind phishers can create links that closely resemble legitimate addresses. Delete the email.
  • Watch for spelling and grammatical mistakes. If an email includes spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors, it’s likely a sign you’ve received a phishing email. Delete it.
  • Look for generic greetings. Phishing emails are unlikely to use your name. Greetings like “Dear sir or madam” signal an email is not legitimate.
  • Avoid emails that insist you act now. Phishing emails often try to create a sense of urgency or demand immediate action. The goal is to get you to click on a link and provide personal information — right now. Instead, delete the message.


Scams and frauds

Scams and frauds are schemes to deceive somebody into paying money or giving away personal information to criminals.  There are many different types of scams and frauds. 

Websites like the Federal Bureau of Investigations or the New Zealand Consumer Affairs give further explanation and details about different types of scams.

Some indicators which may alert you to a scam or fraud are:

  • Unsolicited Contact - the con-artist will contact you first with the intention of pitching some type of opportunity to you or attempting to coax personal details, such as your bank account details.
  • High Pressure Sales Techniques – the fraudster will try and create the situation where you make impulsive decisions without adequately considering the facts and risks.
  • Limited Opportunities – some scams work by making you feel that you are getting a special deal or joining an elite group of people with specialised information.  This can be used to appeal to our innate sense of greed and vanity, or to force quick decision making on the part of the victim.
  • Personal Information Required – there are few legitimate business situations which require you to provide details such as Personal Identification Numbers (PIN), passwords, credit card details etc.  Fraudsters sometimes pose as banks and credit card providers in the hopes of getting information to steal your identity and commit further frauds.
  • Guarantees, High Returns, No Risks – most scams use promises of high returns, little or no risks and guarantees of riches, to dupe people into parting with their money.  In truth, in most financial circumstances the higher the return the higher the risks and there never can be a guarantee that it will not fail.
  • Keep it Secret  - as part of a number of fraudulent schemes you will be told to refrain from telling others of the proposed arrangement.  This is often seen in lottery scams even though your winning ticket was supposedly issued to you as part of a promotional exercise.  This is to stop you from approaching others or researching the facts and discovering that it is a fraud.
  • Spelling and Grammatical Mistakes – some fraudsters will deliberately provide material such as letters or emails which are poorly written.  This is to make the victim think that he or she is superior or cleverer than the fraudster and therefore less likely to be defrauded by them.
  • Huge Rewards Offered But Payments Required First – a number of schemes offer huge financial rewards to “hook” the victim.  The fraudster will then come up with a number of obstacles which, before the riches can be obtained, require the victim to pay money to overcome.  The fraudster will claim that this is to pay taxes, freight charges, bribes for foreign officials etc and at first may be for quite small amounts.  It is human nature that once some payments have been made by us it is harder for us to walk away from something.  These fees will increase until the victim finally realises that no riches will be paid to them as they do not exist.

Remember the old adage that 'if it seems to be too good to be true, it probably is'.  Consider carefully what you are getting into, do not be rushed and do your own independent research.  Sometimes just putting a name of a person or business into a computer search engine with the word scam after it, can find postings from fraudsters previous victims to alert you.

If you think you are being approached by a fraudster, or have fallen victim to a scam, contact the Police immediately. 

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