The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has changed our shopping habits, resulting in a consistent uptick in online buying across the United States. This surge in eCommerce naturally leads to an increase in package deliveries to consumers.
Americans spent over $1 trillion online in 2022, as compared to $960.44 billion in 2021. eCommerce sales grew 7.7% year over year. However, this meteoric rise in deliveries has not gone unnoticed by fraudsters.
The FCC has noted a growth in complaints regarding online shipping scams. This demonstrates yet again that scammers are agile. They’re closely observing current trends and modifying their practices, with the goal of pilfering your funds and personal data.
How Do Shipping Scams Work?
Online shipping scams come in a variety of forms. Most are intended to trick you into believing something is wrong in hopes that you will act in a hurry without stopping to consider the matter too carefully. Here are a few of the most common examples:
A buyer will contact a seller about purchasing an item. They’ll then send a check or money order for more than the agreed-upon price, explaining it as a mistake or saying it’s meant to cover shipping fees. The scammer will ask the seller to deposit the check and refund the difference. The check or money order will eventually bounce, leaving the seller out of pocket.
Scammers hire people as “shipping managers.” The supposed “employee” receives packages at their home, and are then told to repackage the goods, and ship them to another location. The goods are often purchased with stolen credit card information. This can get the “employee” into legal trouble as they’re essentially participating in a fencing operation.
Advance Fee Fraud
Scammers pose as shipping companies, telling victims that they have a package waiting for them, but they need to pay a fee to receive it. The package does not exist, and the scammer simply pockets the fee.
A seller posts high-value items for sale on an online marketplace at a low price. After payment is received, the scammer doesn’t ship anything to the buyer. Instead, they might provide a fake tracking number or false proof of shipment to confuse the buyer.
These scams involve emails or text messages claiming to be from legitimate shipping companies. They may say there’s a problem with a shipment or that a package is waiting for the recipient and then ask the victim to click a link to resolve the issue. This link can lead to a phishing site that looks like the real shipping company’s site, where the victim is tricked into entering their personal information.
The scammer leaves a notice on the victim’s door saying they missed a delivery and provides a phone number to call to reschedule. When the victim calls the number, they’re asked to provide personal information or a credit card number for reshipping fees.
Why You Should Be Worried
Online shopping has made it easier for consumers to be targeted, especially as scammers have become more sophisticated in their methods. The rise of international eCommerce also means that consumers are dealing with more companies that they may not be familiar with, increasing the potential for scams.
Data regarding the prevalence of shipping scams are difficult to aggregate due to the variance in reporting and tracking these crimes. However, agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the U.S. receive thousands of complaints each year related to shipping and online shopping scams, indicating the scale of the issue.
Consumers should be worried about shipping scams because they pose a significant threat to both financial security and personal privacy. Here are a few reasons why shipping scams should be a serious concern:
The most immediate concern is the potential for monetary loss. Many scams involve tricking the victim into paying for a product that doesn’t exist or handing over money in the form of a supposed overpayment or extra shipping fee.
Many shipping scams also involve some form of phishing, where the goal is to trick the victim into revealing personal information. This could be as simple as a credit card number, or it could involve personal information like social security numbers, which can be used for identity theft.
Loss of Personal Goods
In reshipping scams, consumers are often tricked into receiving stolen goods and sending them on to another address. If the scam is discovered, the consumer could potentially lose the goods and be implicated in illegal activities.
What are the Warning Signs?
Awareness is key when it comes to avoiding shipping scams. Here are some common warning signs to look out for:
Be cautious if you receive unexpected emails, calls, or texts claiming to be from a shipping company, especially if you’re not expecting a package. These could be phishing attempts or scams.
Requests for Personal Information
Legitimate shipping companies rarely (if ever) ask for personal information through email, call, or text. Be suspicious if you’re asked for your address, credit card information, social security number, etc.
Requests for Payment
Be wary of any request for payment to release a package, especially if it’s a package you weren’t expecting. Some scammers will claim there’s a package waiting for you and ask for a fee to deliver it.
In online selling, be cautious of buyers who overpay and ask for the difference to be returned. This is a common scam where the original payment will bounce, leaving you out of pocket.
Poor Grammar & Spelling
Emails from scammers often contain poor grammar and spelling, or they may use unusual phrasing. This can be a red flag that the email isn’t from a legitimate source.
If an email or text includes a link, hover over it with your mouse (without clicking) to see where it leads. Avoid clicking if the URL doesn’t match the company’s official website, or if it looks suspicious in any way.
Scammers often try to create a sense of urgency, claiming that you need to act quickly to receive your package or avoid a penalty. Be wary of any communication that tries to rush you.
Too Good to be True
If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Be cautious of items that are significantly underpriced compared to other sellers.
How Do You Protect Yourself From Shipping Scams?
By remaining vigilant and understanding the warning signs outlined above, you can help protect yourself against shipping scams. Always remember to verify information independently, especially if it involves making a payment or providing personal information.
You aren’t entirely on your own here, though. Below, we’ve listed out ten best practices to help you avoid being targeted:
#1. Stay Informed
Awareness is your best defense. Understand the common types of shipping scams and the tactics scammers use so you can recognize a potential scam when you see one.
#2. Check the Source
Always check the source of an unexpected notification, whether it’s an email, call, or text message. If you get an email from a shipping company, go to their official website directly (not via the provided link) to verify the information.
#3. Never Give Out Personal Information
Legitimate shipping companies typically won’t ask for personal information like your credit card number, social security number, or login credentials via email or over the phone.
#4. Use Secure Payment Methods
When purchasing online, use secure payment methods like credit cards, which often have fraud protection policies. Be cautious of sellers who insist on wire transfers, gift cards, or other untraceable payment methods.
#5. Verify Sellers
If buying from online marketplaces, check the seller’s ratings, feedback, and history. Be cautious of new accounts selling high-value items at a significantly reduced price.
#6. Beware of Overpayments
If someone sends you more money than the agreed price and asks for a refund of the difference, it’s likely a scam.
#7. Check for Secure Websites
When shopping online, look for websites with URLs that start with “https” rather than “http.” The “s” stands for “secure,” and indicates that the data is encrypted.
#8. Use Tracking Numbers
When sending or expecting a package, use tracking numbers to know exactly where your package is. Legitimate shipping companies usually provide tracking numbers.
#9. Be Skeptical of Unsolicited Offers
Be cautious of unsolicited job offers that involve receiving and forwarding packages, as these can be reshipping scams.
#10. Report Suspected Scams
If you suspect that you’ve been targeted by a shipping scam, report it to your local law enforcement agency. In the US, you can report fraud to the FTC.