People in France are warned to stay alert to the growing number of scam text messages that say there is a problem with your parcel delivery and you must pay a fee to release it.
Tens of thousands of people across the country have reported receiving similar messages in the past few months.
The problem has grown considerably since the Covid crisis due to the rise in online shopping. More people are genuinely likely to be waiting for parcels to be delivered and are therefore more at risk of falling for the scam.
The texts usually say something along the lines of: “Your parcel is at our distribution centre, to arrange delivery please follow the instructions here”, with a link.
Clicking the link takes you to a website – which often looks very convincing and very similar to legitimate delivery company websites – asking for a small fee of around €3 to “release the parcel”.
In reality, the parcel is not stuck at the distribution centre and would have been delivered as normal in time. Once the victim realises the scam, they often discover that much more than the €3 “fee” has been stolen from their account.
One victim told FranceInfo: “I have received five or six texts like that recently. It’s such a scam.” Another said that by the time she had realised she had been scammed, more than €30 had been taken from her account.
The amount stolen is rarely more than €50 per person, meaning that official reports of the scam are rare. This leads experts to believe that the fraud is probably more wide-spread than reports suggest, but also means that the criminals often “get away” with it.
Jean-Jacques Latour, head of government scam victim assistance agency Cybermalveillance, said: “As the amounts are low, and public prosecutors have thresholds for losses, there is a certain amount of impunity on this issue.”
This type of scam is known as “phishing” (or hameçonnage). This refers to scams that use websites that appear legitimate to trick people out of paying extra fees or entering personal details.
Criminals can buy “packages” that enable them to set up websites quickly, and there are lists of hundreds of thousands of contacts for just €450, sold on criminal sites on the dark web (a part of the web that does not show up on normal browsers or search engines) with payment often by cryptomoney.
Noam Hamnich, head of the audit team for security consulting group iTrust, said: “Anyone can buy this database, which contains email addresses, names, surnames, and everything else needed to carry out a fairly sophisticated phishing campaign.”
Tips to avoid being scammed include:
- Never click on links in texts, especially if they come from an unknown number
- Be alert to website addresses that are likely false, with lots of dashes, or “.com” endings rather than “.fr”
- Scammers can make their texts appear to come from numbers belonging to real companies or public bodies, so if in doubt, do not click
- Never enter your details or card details into a form sent to you ‘out of the blue’
- Contact the courier or sender directly to check if a fee is really needed (it usually is not)