Home delivery scams get smarter – don’t get caught out


We’ve written several times before about home delivery scams, where cybercriminals take advantage of our ever-increasing (and, in coronavirus times, often unavoidable) use of online ordering combined with to-the-doorstep delivery.

Over the past year or so, we’ve noticed what we must grudgingly admit is a gradual improvement in believability on the part of the scammers, with the criminals apparently improving their visual material, their spelling, their grammar and what you might call the general tenor of their fake websites.

The smarter crooks seem to have learned to cut out anything that might smell of drama or urgency, which tends to put potential victims on their guard, and to follow the KISS principle: keep it simple and straightforward.

Ironically, the more precisely that the criminals plagiarise legitimate content, and the fewer modifications they make to the workflow involved, the less effort they have to put in themselves to design and create the material they need for their fake websites…

…and the better those fake websites look and feel.

It’s almost as though the less work they put in of their own, the better and more believable their fraudulent schemes become.

Here’s an example sent in yesterday by a Naked Security reader [who has asked to remain anonymous], in the hope it might serve as a helpful “real world threat story” that you can use to educate and advise your own friends and family.

We hope that you’d spot this one quickly, as our community-spirited reader did, because of three tell-tale signs that the crooks can’t easily avoid:

  • The URL you’re invited to click doesn’t look right, despite using HTTPS and taking you to a regular-looking dot-COM domain.
  • The workflow (data entry sequence) isn’t quite right, given that the crooks need to get you to follow a made up process for re-delivery.
  • The personal data requested isn’t quite right, given that the crooks are trying to squeeze you for personal information that the courier company almost certainly would not need just to rearrange delivery.

Nevertheless, we’ll let the scam sequence speak for itself below, and we think you’ll agree that this one has far fewer mistakes and obvious telltale signs than many of the delivery scams we’ve described before.

DPD, for readers in North America, is a widely-known courier company in Europe and the UK, with a name and logo that is regularly seen on the streets. Note that the crooks regularly rotate the courier brands that they rip off, including matching region-specific brands such as Canada Post and Royal Mail to the country they’re targeting in each specific scamming campaign. Remember that when scammers send their phishing messages via SMS (a technique that is often referred to as smishing), they automatically know from the phone number prefix which country you’re in. Phone numbers generally provide a much better guide to your location and local language than email addresses, which often end with suffixes such as outlook.com or gmail.com no matter where you live.

The scam in words and pictures

The smishing (phishing-via-SMS) lure arrives on your phone, and looks innocent and self-explanatory enough.

The URL ought to be a warning, because it doesn’t look as though it has any connection with the courier company concerned, but it is at least a believable-looking .COM domain with a realistic-looking HTTPS address:

The landing page of the scam is believable enough, too, if you’re already inclined to trust the server name in the address bar.

There are none of the grammar or spelling mistakes that often give away less careful scammers:

The crooks have even copied a geniune-looking list of tracking details that opens up if you click the Where has my parcel been dropdown:

Here’s where the criminals need to introduce an unusual step in the re-delivery process in order to justify asking you for payment-related data later on.

Note that although you shouldn’t need to pay for re-delivery in cases like this, courier companies are sometimes required to ask you to pay additional fees such as import duties or taxes, so “pay before we deliver” is not unheard of.

(For what it’s worth, whenever we’ve received notes from delivery companies that additional fees need to be paid before they are allowed to release the item, there’s always been an obvious way for us to find our own way to the company’s payment portal, or to pay and collect at the depot in person.)

But the convenience of simply paying online, and the modest amount requested, could persuade you to let your guard down:

Once you’ve decided to attempt re-delivery, the scammers want you to confirm your location.

This is another warning sign, given that they should already know your address and phone number to have attempted delivery once and then messaged you about the delivery failure, but it’s easy to assume that this is a precaution to avoid a repeated mis-delivery:

These criminals handily offer “payment” by debit or credit card, PayPal or a PrePay account.

We went for the payment card option:

Then comes the sting for your full card details, including CVV (the secret three-digit code on the back used in online transactions):

Next, the crooks make yet another play for personal information, neatly simulating the Visa Secure dialog window (also known as Mastercard Identity Check, ClickSafe and other names) that most merchants in the UK use these days to allow your bank to do additional security validation.

Note that the crooks check for a genuine-looking credit card number in the webform you just filled in on the fake pay page, so they can use the first few digits (known as the BIN, short for bank identification number) to pop up a realistic-looking financial provider’s name in the window:

Scammers of this sort often struggle to find a good way to finish off a fake payment card transaction, given that they aren’t actually after the £1 or £3 they’re claiming to “charge” you.

The crooks don’t want to risk triggering a fraud warning right away by actually trying to complete the low value transaction themselves at the same time as you’re handing over the data.

Sometimes they produce a fake error message, which helps explain why no £1 or £3 charge ever goes through on your account, but leaves you with an unresolved “home delivery” issue that draws attention to the scam.

We’ve also seen cybercriminals redirect you, at the end of the scam, to a genuine page on the website of the company they’re pretending to be, in order to allay suspicion. (In cases like this, they typically wipe out your browsing history so you can’t easily go back and check what happened so far.)

The crooks in this scam, however, have taken the soft-and-gentle approach of simply pretending everything worked out fine, giving them a full day to evade suspicion until you wonder what happened to the delivery and take steps to find out.

They even advise you that the “payment” won’t be deducted from your account until delivery is complete, as an excuse to explain why no £1 or £3 transfer will appear on your account:

What to do?

  • Check all URLs carefully. Learn what server names to expect from the companies you do business with, and stick to those. Bookmark them for yourself in advance, based on trustworthy information such as URLs on printed statements or account signup forms.
  • Steer clear of links in messages or emails if you can. Legitimate companies often provide quick-to-click links to help you jump directly to useful web pages for online accounts such as utility bills. These links save you a few seconds because you don’t need to find and type in your own tracking code or account number by hand. But you’ll never get caught out by fake links if you never use in-message links at all! (See point 1 above.) Those few seconds are a small price to pay for not paying the large price of handing over your personal data to cybercriminals.
  • Report compromised cards or online accounts immediately. If you get as far entering any banking data into a fake pay page and then realise it’s a scam, call your bank’s fraud reporting number at once. Look on the back of your actual card so you get the right phone number. (Remember that you don’t have to click [OK] or [Continue] for a web form to capture any partial data you have already entered.)
  • Check your bank and card statements. Don’t just look for payments that shouldn’t be there, but also keep an eye out for expected payments that don’t go through. Be alert for incoming funds you weren’t expecting, too, given that you can be called to account for any income that passes through your hands, even if you neither asked for it nor expected it.

And, of course, when it comes to personal data of any sort: if in doubt, don’t give it out.

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