- People across the country are reporting getting spam texts that appear to be from the USPS, FedEx, and UPS.
- The FTC and Better Business Bureau have warned against clicking links in these messages.
- Despite social media claims, there is no evidence the texts are linked to sex trafficking.
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People across the US are getting text messages as part of a phishing scheme that claims to be giving updates about a package from USPS, UPS, or FedEx. Some viral social media posts have claimed that these messages are related to a sex trafficking operation that uses the links to track potential victims, though there is no evidence behind those claims.
Texts come from a random unknown number, claiming some problem with a package delivery, usually something needing urgent attention like an “important alert” or “final notice.”
The messages are easy to mistake for genuine updates. In many cases, they have the correct first name of the recipient, and include potentially legitimate information that might seem real, like a tracking number. Clicking the link is supposed to help resolve the issue with the package, but it actually just infects a device with malware, Shoshana Wodinsky at Gizmodo reported. Information security researched Eric Ellason wrote a Twitter thread explaining how the scam works.
—Eric JN Ellason (@SlickRockWeb) September 15, 2020
In other cases, the scammer behind the phony text is after other security information, including a credit card number or social security number.
These scams are common enough that the Better Business Bureau and FTC both put out alerts earlier this year warning people, with tips on how to avoid getting scammed. As a general rule, the FTC advises “If you get an unexpected text message, don’t click on any links. If you think it could be legit, contact the company using a website or phone number you know is real. Don’t use the information in the text message.”
Phishing attempts like these texts are particularly nefarious because many of these companies do send out legitimate alerts that look quite similar. USPS, FedEx, and UPS each have SMS update options, though consumers have to proactively sign up for them. To further add to the confusion, these companies will also send texts about delivery times and delays, although authentic messages will consistently come from the same number. Signing up for alerts isn’t necessarily a bad idea either, as consumers order expensive electronics for delivery from Apple or Amazon, for example.
These scams are also hard to spot because, at any given time, there’s a good chance you might be waiting on a package. Ecommerce sales increased by nearly a third in Q2 as the pandemic kept many people inside and online shopping became more convenient than ever. With a year over year increased of 44.5%, ecommerce is a $211.5 billion industry.
Consumer protection agencies are in agreement that these texts are a scam, but some social media posts claim that they’re a different type of danger. As the Verge and Insider reported, now deleted Instagram posts stated that the texts were part of a threat where sex traffickers gained access to a device’s location through the link.
The organization behind the US National Sex Trafficking Hotline, Polaris, put out a statement clarifying that there is no evidence connecting these spam messages with human trafficking. However, the debunked theory continues to circulate on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.