SAGE Open (Jul 2021)

How Phishers Exploit the Coronavirus Pandemic: A Content Analysis of COVID-19 Themed Phishing Emails

  • Naci Akdemir,
  • Serkan Yenal

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 11


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This empirical study is an exploration of the influence methods, fear appeals, and urgency cues applied by phishers to trick or coerce users to follow instructions presented in coronavirus-themed phishing emails. To that end, a content analysis of 208 coronavirus-themed phishing emails has been conducted. We identified nine types of phishing messages crafted by phishers. Phishing emails purporting to provide information about the spread of the disease were the most common type of unsolicited emails. Authority, liking and commitment emerged as the most common influence methods. Fear appeals and urgency cues were present in almost all of the sampled phishing messages. Finally, the analysis of coronavirus-themed phishing emails revealed a shift in the modus operandi of phishers. The implications of these results are discussed in this paper.