The Package Tracking Scam: What It Is And How To Protect Yourself From It

It's similar to the infamous Nigerian prince scam

Businessman carrying a large stack of boxes with a larger pile of boxes behind him.

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Similar to the infamous Nigerian prince scam, the package tracking scam is an attempt to steal your money or personal information. Here's what you need to know about to avoid becoming a victim.

What Is The Package Tracking Scam?

A typical package-tracking scam tries to convince you you've got a package or could obtain a package fraudulently if you play along. The real goal is to either get information about you or to entice you to click a link that might infect your computer with malware.

How Does The Package Tracking Scam Work?

Most of these scams work by email. You'll get a notice in your inbox advising you of some sort of shipping problem or of a step you need to take to clear a package you didn't know was coming. Some of these messages are easy to spot. They're written in the same awful language littered with misspellings, poor grammar, and odd capitalization.

A 2012 study conducted by Microsoft suggests the poor language of most scam messages isn't an accident. Because scammers target large swaths of people, these mistakes help the bad guys hone in on ideal targets because the target is obviously gullible enough to respond in the first place. In essence, the victims self-select participation in the fraud—much to the delight of the perpetrators.

Other scams are more difficult to spot at first glance. These messages might even look like they're from UPS, FedEx, DHL, or the U.S. Postal Service. Closer inspection reveals unusual problems:

  • URLs that look odd.
  • Requests for information from you about the package or your identity.
  • Requests that you confirm information by clicking a link.
  • Emails that omit essential information (e.g., messages starting with "Dear customer").

How Do The Package Tracking Scammers Find Victims?

While this scam mostly uses email to find victims, criminals will sometimes cold call people pretending to be package delivery companies. Keep in mind, however, that these companies will never give you an unsolicited phone call. If they can't deliver a package, they typically leave a note on your door.

How Do I Avoid Getting Involved In This Scam?

Avoid being scammed by never giving information about yourself to anyone who either doesn't need it or should already have it. FedEx, for example, doesn't need you to confirm your mother's maiden name.

Also, never click links in an email from a shipping company if you didn't expect to see the message. Messages about shipments you didn't expect are intended to evoke greed. The scammers hope you're willing to suspend discretion in the hope of an illicit windfall. That email inviting you to click a link to track the shipment of an iPhone you never ordered is a prime example. No one's sending you an iPhone. Delete the message.

I’m Already a Victim. What Should I Do?

If you already clicked that link and gave your personal information to scammers, it's time to do some damage control. Call your bank and credit card companies immediately so they can prevent fraudulent charges. Also consider filing a fraud alert with the three major credit bureaus.

If you downloaded any software, run anti-virus and anti-malware programs from trusted sources. Once your computer is clean, change all of your passwords.

Lastly, consider filing a police report. Your bank and credit card companies might require one as proof you were victimized.

How Do I Avoid Being Targeted For The Package Tracking Scam?

In the future, you can avoid being targeted by package tracking scams by practicing some basic internet safety. Keep your personal information private, choose strong passwords, keep your anti-virus apps updated, and don't trust unsolicited emails.

Check out these nine computer safety tips for more ways to safeguard your information.