AARP Eye Center
Americans spent $211.4 billion online over the 2021 holidays, according to retail research company Digital Commerce 360. That was up 10 percent from 2020 as consumers continued to gravitate toward the ease and convenience of e-commerce. Scammers love the trend, too: They've developed myriad tricks to take advantage of the proliferation of packages, especially during the holiday season.
Their primary ploy is a phony delivery notification, a scam that really ramped up amid the surge in stay-at-home shopping during the coronavirus pandemic. You’ll get an email or text message that claims to come from the U.S. Postal Service or a major delivery company like FedEx or UPS. The message may say you need to confirm an order so it can be delivered, or that an unsuccessful attempt was made to drop off a package and you need to schedule another. Clicking a link will take you to a website where you can straighten things out.
In all likelihood, it’s a ruse. The scammer is hoping you order so many things online that you can’t keep track of all your purchases, or that you’ll assume it’s a gift from a friend or relative. The link takes you to a bogus site where you’ll be asked to enter personal or financial data, enabling a crook to use it for identity theft. The fake site might also be a launchpad for malware that harvests sensitive information from your device.
Delivery cons have become the predominant form of "smishing," or text-message phishing scams. Crooks sent out an astonishing 23 billion messages about faux deliveries in 2021, accounting for more than 1 in 4 spam texts, according to phone-security service RoboKiller.
There are low-tech variations, too. Scammers might call you posing as employees from a delivery service, saying they need a credit card number or other private data to reschedule a drop-off. Or they’ll leave a failed-delivery notice on your door with a number to call; if you do, the person on the other end will try to talk you into providing personal information to collect your purported package.
Some package crooks resort to even simpler means. These “porch pirates” watch for delivery vans that leave legitimately purchased merchandise at consumers’ doorsteps, ideally when the targets aren’t home, then swoop in and make off with the goods. In a November 2021 survey of 2,000 consumers by market-research firm C+R, 23 percent said they'd had a package stolen from a doorstep or porch, and nearly a third of that group said it had happened more than once.