Well, my mother got scammed on the internet, again. Last week, she received a text on her phone claiming to be from the shipping company UPS. The text message said they “were unable to complete your delivery due [to] incomplete address,” and included a website link for her to schedule a new delivery. The link took her to a website with the UPS logo and asked her to enter her credit card information to pay for a $1.14 “redelivery fee”.
When she told me about it later in the day, I immediately found the incident suspicious. I receive packages from UPS all the time and have never been required to pay for a redelivery. She also told me she got the text at 4 a.m., but who is doing deliveries at that time of day? I asked her to show me the text message. It came from an “unknown” number, and the link they provided was a shortcut — a link designed to redirect someone from a short URL to a longer, more complex address. This one started with “bit.ly”, which is a common provider of URL shortcuts. That doesn’t mean that any similar link is automatically suspicious, since there are many credible people and organizations who use this service to shorten links shared on social media, but scammers will use this method to disguise the fact that they are sending you to an illegitimate website.
On her phone, this link had sent her to a webpage with an address beginning with “www45.”. I was not able to discover exactly what this prefix means, but the first Google result referencing a similar address came from a user complaining about getting a virus from it.
When I forwarded the text message to my own computer and opened the link in my browser, it did not take me to a faux UPS website, as it had on her phone, but instead opened to a different random website each time I clicked on it, which my browser’s anti-malware security software automatically killed as a safety precaution before I could even view its content. I believe the link in the text message was programmed only to open to the fake UPS site when launched on a smart phone, because that was the platform they were targeting. (It should be noted, I emphatically do not recommend anyone click on such a link, as it could potentially install a virus on your computer, but I was curious about where it would take me and I have precautions installed on my PC and know how to deal with a virus if I get one. For everyone else: never click on a suspicious link!)
Although I couldn’t find an exact match to this scam on the official UPS website, they did acknowledge awareness of similar scams on their FAQ page.
Based on this brief analysis, I think there is no question that this text was sent to my mother by a scammer and it was not actually from UPS about a package delivery. We called her bank and canceled her credit card. A new card should arrive in a few weeks and, according to the bank, no unauthorized charges had been made on her account. It’s inconvenient but no lasting harm was done.
But why did my mom fall for it? She’s a smart lady and is well-aware of the prevalence of scammers who frequently prey on senior citizens like her. Part of the reason, I think, is the fact that she was expecting a package and that delivery was late. “How did they know I was expecting a package?” she asked incredulously when I told her I thought she had been the victim of a scam.
And I think this reaction is the key to why she was duped. She was expecting a package, it was late, and the text seemed to fit into the pattern she was expecting to see. How did the scammer know she was expecting a delivery? Did they steal her order information from Amazon or UPS? I recommended she change her Amazon password just in case, but I’m not sure the scammer had any special knowledge about her ordering habits.
We live in the age of Amazon and other online retailers. In any given week, I am probably expecting a package. We don’t realize just how often most of us regularly receive items through the mail. Something that was fairly rare two decades ago has become a commonplace occurrence today. I suspect this scammer sent a similar text message to thousands (maybe millions?) of people, and (I’m guessing here) maybe 80 percent of them are anticipating the receipt of a package from somewhere at some point during the week. Although it’s possible the scammer hacked Amazon or the UPS website and stole my mother’s information as part of an effort to target her, I think it’s more likely they just got lucky in the timing of their text message.
Hopefully, this article can serve as a reminder to everyone to be aware of such predatory behavior. Seniors seem to be especially targeted by these scammers. My mother frequently receives phone calls on her landline from people who claim to be one of her grandchildren and in desperate need of cash. She’s learned not to trust such calls. Now, she will be wary of suspicious texts too. If you are one of these older folks, be suspicious! Ask your kids for advice if you have a concern. If you are a younger person, look out for your parents and grandparents. Speak to them about these issues and caution them to be watchful.
And it’s always a good practice to avoid clicking on links in emails or text messages unless you are certain the source is trustworthy.