How to spot a parcel scam and what to do

Parcel and package delivery scams are the most prevalent type of ‘smishing’ text messages in the country. according to data by cybersecurity company Proofpoint. Photo: Ian Forsyth/Getty

Thousands of Brits took to the high street and shopped online over the weekend, snapping up the latest bargains in the run up to Christmas.

However, as many eagerly await their Black Friday and Cyber Monday parcels, scammers are lurking in the shadows looking to take advantage of the increased number of deliveries.

According to data by cybersecurity company Proofpoint, provided to UK Finance, parcel and package delivery scams are the most prevalent type of “smishing” text messages in the country.

Smishing is a technique that criminals use to target consumers with texts impersonating trusted organisations.

This has been heightened thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, as more people have been ordering online and awaiting deliveries at home.

Watch: Smishing: Cyber security expert warns of scams through text messages

Three in five people in the UK have had fake delivery company texts over the past year, according to figures from consumer group Which?.

Here are a few tips on how to spot a parcel scam and what to do:

Website links

Malicious texts and emails are often part of a wider scam, and contain links to a fraudulent website that replicates a legitimate site, asking the victim to enter personal and financial information.

These can often be messages informing you that there is an issue with your parcel, that a fee needs to be paid to continue with a delivery, or that the package has already been delivered.

Scams often use generic greetings, such as “Dear Sir/Madam”, or include spelling errors.

They may also use official branding to convince you that they are genuine, referencing an official website, although it will not be the official link. You should also be cautious of domains that end in .net or .org, as they are rarely used for online shopping so may have been acquired by questionable organisations.

Read more: European markets fall as Moderna boss says vaccine less effective against Omicron

The advice from the top prevention websites is to always stop and think whenever you get a text message out of the blue before parting with your information or money.

Always access websites by typing them into a web browser and avoid clicking on links in texts.

If you are unsure you can speak directly to the company you ordered from, or report suspicious looking messages. Customers can report suspected scam texts to their mobile network provider by forwarding them to 7726 which spells “SPAM” on a telephone keypad.

Banks

If you have already entered information into a fraudulent website via a text message, the first thing to do is not panic.

Contact your bank as soon as possible, and the Financial Ombudsman Service might be able to help too.

Criminals can also make scam phone calls claiming to be someone from your bank.

These scammers exploit the information you have provided to sound credible, and then offer to help safeguard funds by trying to convince you to transfer money into a “safe account”.

No such safe account exists and it is in fact an account run by cybercriminals, often the same people who send smishing text messages.

Watch: When should I start paying into a pension?

Katy Worobec, managing director of economic crime at UK Finance, said: “Criminals are experts at impersonating a range of organisations and have capitalised on the pandemic, knowing that many of us will be ordering goods online and awaiting parcel deliveries at home.”

Contact details

Scam websites often use vague contact details which can be a PO box, premium rate number (starting ‘09’), or a mobile number, according to Which?.

Premium rate numbers are also a favoured trick for squeezing every penny they can out of you.

If you are unsure you can often do an online search of a company’s address and phone number, and also search the number of the person who has called you. These are often listed as spam or scam callers online.

Another tip for preventing falling victim to scams is to look at reviews across a number of sources, such as Trustpilot, Feefo or Sitejabber, which aggregate customer reviews.

Read more: Bank fraud rises with 'authorised' scam complaints spiking 30% in the UK

“Last year scammers stole £479m ($639m) from unsuspecting people through these scams, with the actual figure likely to be a lot higher as much of it goes unreported,” Laura Suter, head of personal finance at AJ Bell, said.

“Everyone thinks they are smart enough to spot a scam text, but the messages have become so sophisticated that it's easy to be caught out.

“Lots of people will also see the text when they are in a hurry to receive their package or are rushing, so won't stop to think about whether it's legitimate or not.”

Watch: How to prevent getting into debt?

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