Four ways you can help friends and family avoid phishing scams

“I got an email from the bank threatening to close my account if I didn’t verify my identity. But don’t worry, I just logged in through the link they attached and answered some personal questions, so everything should be fine now!” two dialogue windows separated by padlock emojis, sirens and hand cursors; one window shows a woman wearing headphones with a laptop, the other shows a family looking at a phone

…is not exactly something you’d want to hear from your friend or family member, especially knowing that they may have accidentally shared some very personal information – like usernames and passwords or answers to their security questions.

Unfortunately, cyber criminals are always coming up with new ways to take advantage of unsuspecting victims through phishing scams. Even if you think that you’ll be safe from these schemers, you may not be able to say the same for those closest to you – like your grandma, your cousin or your freakishly tech-savvy eight-year-old niece.

Before they become victims of these scams, here’s what you can do to help keep your loved ones safe.

Let them know what phishing looks like

Phishing messages are fraudulent messages sent by cyber scammers to trick you into sharing personal information so they can steal from you. They often pretend to be real organizations or people to make their messages seem more believable.

You can help your loved ones avoid phishing messages by making them aware of some common red flags, including:

  • Typos: Phishing messages often have typos, frequently in the subject line, the body of the message or the name of the company or person.
  • Pixelated images: Cyber criminals will often use logos or images to make their messages look more convincing. Look out for pixelated or low-quality images that may be different from the usual images used by the company or individual
  • Suspicious email addresses: Always check the sender’s email address by hovering over it before taking action. If you receive an email from a personal account or if the email address has a strange or misspelled user or domain name, the message might be fake.

Help them understand common phishing scams

Cyber criminals are always coming up with new ways to steal your information. Many cyber criminals will use urgent or threatening language to trick victims into reacting quickly. They may threaten to close your accounts, fine you or take legal action against you. Cyber criminals will often impersonate organizations like government departments, your bank or other service providers. Let your friends and family know that these organizations would never threaten you to give them personal information.

Some phishing scams will offer you a reward like a free vacation or inheritance from a “long-lost relative”. These messages will trick you into clicking a link, downloading an attachment or giving up your information in exchange for the “prize”. They also might try to make you feel like you’ll miss out on the offer if you don’t act quickly. Let your friends and family know that they shouldn’t click on any links or open any attachments in messages from unknown senders. If the message seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Help them hit delete

Phishing messages are made to look convincing, and it can be easy for your friends and family to feel overwhelmed if they receive one. It’s important to let your loved ones know that they shouldn’t panic if they do receive a suspicious message. Scammers rely on strong emotions from victims to make them act, and it’s important that your loved ones don’t take the bait.

If they’re concerned that their accounts might actually be at risk or that they may owe a service provider information or money, the best thing to do is call the organization or individual directly using their official phone number and ask them.

Your loved ones should never respond to a suspicious email without first confirming its legitimacy. When in doubt, delete the message, especially if you’ve already checked for the signs of a phishing message

Teach them how to protect themselves

The best ways to avoid phishing scams are to take steps to defend yourself against them and get familiar with what some common scams look like. You can help your friends and family by ensuring they’re using spam filters on their email.

Another important step is to install updates on your devices as soon as they become available. Software updates often include bug fixes and security patches to keep up with new malware. That way, if an attachment or a link is accidentally clicked, your devices can help protect you.

If you or someone you know has fallen victim to a cyber scam, you can contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre to report it.


Phishing messages may not always look super obvious but with the right guidance, it can become easier to identify these types of scams. You can help your friends and family get cyber safe by giving them information about phishing and encouraging them not to take the bait.

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