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Fake delivery scam texts soar in pandemic: what you can do to keep yourself safe

If you shop online, chances are that you’re familiar with the sinking feeling you get when you miss a delivery.

Heading to the Post Office to pick it up is a nightmare when you’re in back-to-back zoom meetings and remote working has made your lunch break a thing of the past.

So, when you get a text message from the courier asking for a small fee for redelivery – it seems a small price to pay for the convenience of a doorstep drop off.

You click on the link, pop in your 16-digit-card number and move on with your day.

Unfortunately, for a growing number of consumers, that link wasn’t the real deal but rather a copycat website set up by a fraudster.

And you know that call that you got from the bank to secure your account after suspicious activity was detected? Yep. It’s all connected.

So, what started as a text about a fee for a parcel, can soon end with criminals making off with your cash – and, the worst part, you could struggle to get your money back via your bank.


Smishing – a silly name, but it’s no joke

Fake text messages – also known as ‘smishing’ or SMS phishing – are nothing new.

But the online shopping boom – and confusion over new fees that have come in since the Brexit transition period ended on 31 December – have given fraudsters a bigger pool of potential victims to phish in.

With lockdown, we have all become mail-order shoppers, meaning more chance of a spam text landing with someone who is expecting a parcel.

In fact, research from Which? found that phone call and text message fraud was up 83% over the last year, the biggest rise across all types of fraudulent attacks.

What’s more, personal information obtained from data breaches is making it easier than ever for fraudsters to create highly targeted messages and calls, with many creating a false sense of security by using these details to their advantage.

The Office for National Statistics has estimated that for the year ending March 2021 there were 4.6m fraud offences.

And it seems like it’s not a problem that's likely to go away: convictions in England and Wales have slumped to their lowest level since 2007 with just one in 700 incidents of fraud convicted in 2019.

Recovery fraud has risen by 39% since last year, with victims losing an average of £14,408 each

How it works

Fraudulent emails have been going around for decades, so most people are aware of them to a certain extent.

But text messages feel more personal which means that you may be less likely to be on your guard when criminals come calling.

One scam that's doing the rounds involves couriers such as Royal Mail.

Here, texts warn that a parcel couldn’t be delivered and that a small fee was due, linking to a convincing copycat Royal Mail website requesting payment details.

Victims are then called by scammers pretending to be their bank and offering to help them recoup their losses.

Known as “recovery fraud”, this type of fraud has risen by 39% since last year, with victims losing an average of £14,408 each.

For those tricked into sending money to a scammer there's no such legal protection against lost cash

Banks dropping the ball

To add insult to injury, it seems that many of the UK’s biggest banks are failing to properly help fraud victims.

Which? surveyed more than 400 people who had been the victims of a fraud – or attempted fraud – in the last 12 months and found that nearly a fifth were unsatisfied with how their bank had managed the incident while almost a third said that their bank had failed to offer advice or resources on how to protect themselves in the future.

Of the people who reported fraud to their bank via phone or webchat, 15% said that they had waited 30 minutes or more to speak to someone.

In some cases, these lengthy delays mean fraudsters are able to drain accounts while the victim is still on hold with their bank.

“Fraud can have a devastating impact on victims and when banks fail to offer proper support, it can make a nightmare situation even worse, and an absence of information from firms about how people can protect themselves could even lead to ruthless scammers striking for a second time,” said Jenny Ross, money editor at Which?.


Show me the money

But what help is available and what type of refund can victims expect?

Although many banks promise to reimburse blameless victims of this kind of fraud by signing up to the voluntary authorised payments scam code, banks might challenge customers if they think you didn’t take precautions.

For those tricked into sending money to a scammer – known as authorised push payment (APP) fraud or bank transfer fraud – there's no such legal protection against losses.

While most major banks have signed up to a voluntary reimbursement code on bank transfer scams, according to Which?, many customers are not refunded, or are offered 50% of their money back with decisions made on an ad-hoc basis.

3 things to do
right now

1

Don’t click on links in text messages. If a text asks you to take immediate action, take a moment to think. Don’t reply to suspicious texts or call the number. This only confirms to the scammers that your number belongs to someone. As a result, you might get targeted by more text and cold call scams.

2

Act fast The quicker you report fraudulent activity, the faster you can try to get your money back – or prevent it from disappearing. All high street banks have 24-hour phone lines for reporting fraud – you can find the numbers online, or on the back of your debit card.

3

Report it To report a spam text forward the text to 7726. You may get an automated response thanking you for the report and giving you further instructions if needed. You will not be charged for sending texts to 7726. An easy way to remember ‘7726' is that they are the numbers on your telephone keypad that spell out the word ‘SPAM'.

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