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Buying gifts from the comfort of your home can be nice, but you have to watch out for scammers who could quickly dampen the holiday cheer. These shipping scams aren't unique to holiday shopping, but you might be more susceptible when you're excited to find a deal on the perfect gift or nervous that your package won't arrive in time.
Don't let the Grinch win. Take a deep breath, slow down before placing an order or clicking on a link and watch out for these shipping scams.
Fake Shipping Problem Notifications
Fake shipping notifications aren't new. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released a consumer alert about this type of scam in 2014. But they're still one of the most persistent shipping-related scams.
It starts when the scammer sends you an email, text or voicemail that looks like it's coming from a major retailer, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), UPS, FedEx or another shipping company. The message says there's a problem with your shipment and asks you to click on a link or respond with your information to sort everything out.
The scam message can be especially convincing if it coincides with an order you actually placed. For example, scammers might use a database of people's names, phone numbers and ZIP codes to send thousands of semi-personalized texts at once. And they know that many people buy products online from popular online retailers.
The message might say something like, "Hello [your name], your recent order from Amazon to [your ZIP code] requires confirmation. Please go to xyz.com to verify your information and avoid shipping delays." By chance, scammers will connect with several people who recently placed an order on Amazon.
The exact messages can vary, but you might be told that you need to:
- Update your address
- Verify your identity
- Confirm your credit card details
- Pay a redelivery fee
In reality, the scammers are stealing your personal or financial information—which they might sell or use to commit fraud. Even clicking on the link could be dangerous if it installs malware on your device.
Extra Fees for Discreet Shipping or Insurance
Another shipping-related scam starts when you make a purchase from an online marketplace, messaging app or fake ecommerce website. Often, buyers are tempted by low prices or the availability of hard-to-find items.
After you place your order, the seller or a third-party shipping company contacts you and requests extra payment to cover discreet shipping fees, insurance or another made-up cost. You might be asked to pay with a payment app, like CashApp or Zelle.
Even if you receive a tracking number that looks legitimate and shows the package has been shipped, there's a good chance the entire thing is a scam. The sellers didn't ship the correct item (if they sent anything), and they're just trying to get extra money from you.
How to Protect Yourself From Holiday Scams
- Don't respond—only share information when you initiate contact. One of the best things you can do is to have a rule that you never share your personal or financial information with someone who emails, texts or calls. Instead, look up the company's information and initiate contact to be sure you're speaking to an actual representative. If the person attempts to scare you into responding right away, that's a sign that it's likely a scam.
- Stay away from sales that seem too good to be true. Everyone loves a good deal, but low-priced items might be part of a shipping scam or triangulation fraud, especially if they're listed on marketplaces or unfamiliar websites. With triangulation fraud, you might receive the item you buy. However, the scammers now have your information.
- Always use payment methods with built-in protections. Scammers often ask for payments via gift cards, wire transfer, cryptocurrency or payment apps that don't let you easily request a refund. Insist on using a credit card or payment platform that will refund you if the item you purchase doesn't arrive as described.
- Use unique passwords for all your accounts. If you respond to a shipping scam and enter an account's username and password to "confirm" your information, the scammer might try to use it to log in to other accounts. Even if you didn't fall for the scam, fraudsters might have your passwords from previous data breaches. Using unique passwords can help protect you from these types of attacks, and a password manager often makes that easier.
- Protect yourself from package theft. Mail theft is an increasingly common crime that could ruin your holidays. Check your mailbox frequently and try to collect packages right away. Signing up for the free USPS Informed Delivery service and creating free accounts with FedEx and UPS can help you track packages and set delivery preferences. The USPS also suggests having items held at your local post office if you're out of town.
What to Do if You're the Victim of a Shipping Scam
Don't feel bad if you fall for a shipping scam—many people do every year—but you'll want to take a few steps to protect your identity and accounts. You can also report scammers if you catch on before falling for the scam.
- Report the scammer: Report suspected fraudsters to the FTC online. You can also report scammers who impersonate the USPS to the Postal Inspection Service by calling 877-876-2455 or forwarding phishing emails or texts to email@example.com.
- If you clicked on a link: Check for malware by running an antivirus scan on your device and then follow the recommended steps. In some cases, you may need to reinstall the operating system.
- If you logged in to an account: The scammers may have your username and password—change your password on the corresponding website. If you use the same password on other accounts, change the password on those accounts as well.
- If you shared your personal information: You have the right to add fraud alerts to your credit reports to help protect you against credit fraud. You also have the right to add security freezes, also called credit freezes, to your credit reports for free.
- If you entered card or payment details: Call your financial institution and tell them that your account may be compromised. They can help you get a replacement debit or credit card.
Unfortunately, you won't necessarily get your money back if you send a payment to the scammer. But it's worth contacting the financial institution or app you used to see if there are any protections or refunds available.
Monitor Your Credit and Identity
Changes in your credit report, such as an unexpected inquiry or new account, can be signs of identity theft. Check your Experian credit report for free, and get free ongoing credit report monitoring with real-time alerts when there are important changes. Also, look into an Experian IdentityWorksSM subscription if you want more robust identity monitoring and protections.