As the nation prepares for festive gifting, more than half of these fake messages will use parcel deliveries to trick people out of their money.
Cyber-security firm Proofpoint told the BBC that it is seeing ten times more scam texts this year compared to last year. The texts usually contain a link that leads people to download malicious software or give away private data if they click on it.
The warning comes after consumer watchdog Which? found that three in five people (61 per cent) surveyed in May received a fake text claiming to be from a delivery company in the past year.
The group said it has been “inundated” with reports of delivery text scams, with more than 2,000 such scams logged with them this year as online shopping became more popular due to the pandemic. More than a quarter of the messages are fake Royal Mail delivery texts, it added.
So how do you avoid being scammed, and where do you report the fraudsters?
How do I avoid getting scammed?
Unfortunately, there isn’t any way to stop scammers from sending you fake delivery text messages.
According to Adam French, senior consumer rights editor at Which?, the scammers simply send out the text messages en masse to as many phone numbers as possible.
However, there are steps you can take to protect yourself if you get one of these messages. The main thing you must not do is click on any links you receive in a suspicious text.
Which? advises consumers to “take a moment to think”. “Delivery companies usually only text you to share tracking information and don’t ask for upfront payments,” the group said.
Do not follow any instructions the message gives to reply or call a number, as this will only confirm to the scammers that your number is active and you may be targeted by more scams.
If you’re expecting a delivery and you’re worried about your parcel, use the official websites of delivery companies to track your parcel or call their customer service line. They will be able to confirm if a message you have received is fake or genuine.
French told The Independent: “Over the past year, Britain has been bombarded with scam delivery texts on an industrial scale and unfortunately Christmas is a peak time for criminals looking to exploit consumers through parcel scams.“Couriers and the telecoms industry must take further action to protect consumers, by making it harder for fraudsters to exploit systemic weaknesses to reach potential victims, and by making people more aware of how to spot such scams.“Consumers should try to remain vigilant this Christmas and can sign up to Which?’s scam alert service to keep themselves, their friends and family informed about the latest tactics used by fraudsters.”
What do I do if I click on the link?
Many of these fraudulent texts and websites are sophisticated and can look very convincing, so it is understandable that around three per cent of people say they have lost money because of one of these scams.
Following the link may lead you to a page that tells you to download a tracking app for parcel delivery or that your phone has a virus and you should download anti-virus software.
But according to the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), these apps or software are malicious and contain spyware that can steal your banking details, passwords, contacts and other sensitive information.
If you have already downloaded the spyware app, the NCSC advises you to perform a factory reset on your phone as soon as possible. Once your device has been reset, it may ask you if you want to restore from a backup, but you should not restore from any backups created after you downloaded the spyware app.
If you have logged into any accounts or apps using a password since you downloaded the app, you must change that password. If you use the same password for any other accounts, these also need to be changed.
Some of the links in scam messages will lead to a page asking for your bank details in order to take money for a “fee”, but this can lead to them emptying your bank account.
If you’ve lost money to a scam using a credit or debit card, Which? advises you to report it to your bank or payment provider as soon as possible.
“Reports of fraud should be investigated quickly and all efforts should be made to recover the money if possible,” the group said.
How do I report a fake delivery message?
You can report scams to Action Fraud by calling 0300 123 2040 or report it online. Action Fraud gathers intelligence on scams and passes it on to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau to be analysed by the police.
You can also report a scam message to the police by calling 101.
Which? also has a scam sharer tool that you can report to, which will help protect other people from fraud. You can find it here.
The NCSC advises anyone who receives a suspicious “missed parcel” message to forward it to 7726, a free spam-reporting service provided by phone operators. After that, you should delete the message.
A NCSC spokesperson said: “It’s great that technology has allowed many people in the UK to carry out online shopping securely this Christmas.
“Unfortunately, cyber criminals are opportunistic and so it’s vital for the public to stay vigilant to scammers who might try tricking people into sharing their financial or personal details.
“To help stay safe online, we urge individuals to report suspicious messages by forwarding suspect texts to ‘7726’ and emails to email@example.com, and to familiarise themselves with our advice on how to spot common signs of a scam.”