Beware of ‘COVID-19 Support Team’ phishing email

The battle against phishing attacks is an ongoing, daily task. Though we are equipped with highly-sophisticated and advanced tools for protection, hackers retaliate by evolving their techniques to evade these protections.

It is important to continually educate ourselves and maintain awareness about phishing attacks to ensure our individual and institutional data remains protected. Hackers use techniques such as spear phishing to persuade email recipients to click a link which can then distribute malware onto their devices or grant hackers access to their data. Some phishing attacks are used as means to steal credentials, which can cause further damage to both the recipient and the University of Toronto (U of T) on a higher level.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Statistics Canada has determined that just over four in ten Canadians have received a phishing attack. Hackers have been taking advantage of people’s vulnerable state in these unprecedented times by sending fraudulent emails that attempt to trick recipients into revealing personal information or clicking on malicious links or attachments.

On Nov. 1, 40,000 U of T community members received an email from the University’s ‘COVID-19 Support Team’ (which does not actually exist). This email encouraged recipients to fill out a form on the ‘University of Toronto giveaway page’ to become eligible for a one-time cash reward.

If you received this email, please ensure to report and delete the email immediately.

Take a look at some of the red flags to help you identify a phishing email:

How to spot phishing email

  • No greeting: Phishing emails are usually sent in mass, and therefore rarely include a personalized greeting. Instead, it’s common to see a vague greeting such as “Dear Member”, “Hello” or no greeting at all.
  • Poorly written email: One of the more common signs of a phishing email is spelling mistakes and poor grammar. Another sign is formatting inconsistencies throughout the email. Notice how the font size, type and colour changes in this example.
  • Suspicious link: Phishing emails almost always contain a link that either takes users to a cloned website or downloads malicious software. These links are often crafted to appear genuine by using a URL that looks like a legitimate one. One of the ways to verify a URL’s legitimacy without clicking on it is by hovering your cursor over the link and verifying the address revealed in the popup box. In this email, hovering over the link revealed a link that is not associated with U of T.
  • Threat and a sense of urgency: Emails that threaten negative consequences should always be treated with caution. This is a tactic used by hackers to encourage or even demand immediate action, which flusters the recipient into acting without being given time to think about it. Note how the hacker threatened the recipient into providing their personal information in order for their application to be processed.

What to do if you receive this phishing email:

  • Do not act on any of the email prompts including clicking the link, providing personal information or opening the attachment.
  • Forward it to and then delete it from your inbox.
  • If you already clicked on the link or attachment, please contact immediately for assistance.
  • To help prevent future phishing attempts, we encourage community members to enrol in U of T’s multi-factor authentication (MFA) service, UTORMFA:

For more information about protecting yourself online, please visit:

U of T community: Watch out for payroll fraud phishing email

Phishing has become one of the most popular subsets of social engineering. It is likely that most people have received an email urging action on an unknown link or attachment to prevent being ‘locked out of your accounts’. According to the 2021 Data breach Investigations Report (DBIR) by Verizon, 36 per cent of online breaches involved phishing, which is an 11 per cent increase from last year.

While some phishing emails might look suspicious due to poor grammar, spelling mistakes and other red flags, hackers have become more advanced, and their phishing attempts are more successful. Spear phishing is one of the most common and dangerous methods used to conduct fraud, usually on specific individuals or organizations. Often, the recipients are asked to open a malicious attachment or click on a link that takes them to a spoofed website where they are asked to provide passwords or other personal information.

Recently, members of the University of Toronto (U of T) community received a phishing email that contained a link leading to a spoofed version of the UTORid login page. Here are some of the red flags that were present in the email:

Phishing email sent to U of T community

  • Email spoofing: Email spoofing is the act of sending phishing emails from a forged email address. This is a technique used in most phishing emails to get the recipients to open and engage with the email. In this instance, the hacker is attempting to impersonate U of T administration by using an official U of T email domain. 
  • Generic greeting: Legitimate emails from a trusted organization or emails exchanged between colleagues will often include a direct greeting (your name). Hackers typically use generic greetings such as “Dear Member” or “Good morning” because they are sending mass emails and do not have access to your personal information (name). However, more advanced attacks may address you by name, which is why you should stay informed of all the different phishing red flags.  
  • Suspicious link and cloned web page: This phishing email contained a link to a .PDF extension — hovering over the link uncovered a suspicious URL unrelated to any known U of T websites. This link leads to a cloned version of the UTORid login page. A cloned webpage works by copying the front-end of a website to trick the email recipient into trusting the page and inputting their personal information. U of T staff, faculty and students will never be asked to provide their UTORid credentials via email. 
  • Poorly worded email: Often, you can spot a phishing email by the poor use of grammar and spelling. Right from the subject line, this email displayed both these flaws. Always ensure to read the email carefully and check for spelling and grammatical mistakes, as well as oddly worded sentences. 
  • Demanding urgent action: A common tactic used by hackers is to create a sense of urgency. This tactic is widely successful because recipients feel too rushed to analyze the email in detail and are more likely to fall for the attack. In this instance, the sender asked the recipient to manually approve the schedule within “48hours” (note the grammatical error) of receiving the email.  

Learn more about identifying and reporting a phishing attempt