Even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Americans received a lot of packages. About 18 billion parcels were shipped in the United States in 2018, according to Pitney Bowes, and the parcel delivery industry has been growing at an average 4.7 percent each year. But given the recent ‘shelter in place’ orders, 2020 may break records for services such as UPS, FedEx, and the U.S. Postal Service.
Not surprisingly, thieves and fraud perpetrators are looking for any opportunity to profit from what has become an essential service. Here is what you should watch out for.
You may already be aware of physical package thefts by ‘porch pirates’ — a crime that usually flares up around the holidays. A 2019 survey conducted by Security.org found that approximately 38 percent of Americans believed they had packages stolen from their doorsteps at some point. The same security company repeated its survey the week of May 17 to learn how COVID-19 has affected theft rates. It found that an estimated 25 million (20 percent) Americans had lost packages to theft in the past 90 days alone.
Unfortunately, home security systems, including cameras, do not seem to deter most thieves. But you can take steps to ensure your online orders safely reach you. For example, use the package’s tracking number to monitor its progress so you know when it is scheduled to be delivered. You also might request a delivery signature — either your own or, if you will not be home, a neighbor’s. Some retailers provide the option of delivery to a locker at a central location or a local business such as a UPS Store.
Another form of package-related theft does not actually involve packages. Here is how this common scam works: You receive a call from a so-called parcel service telling you that they were unable to deliver a package. If you say you are not expecting anything, the caller may claim the package is a gift from someone else. The caller then asks you to ‘verify’ personal information or provide a credit card number to reschedule delivery. Of course, there is no package.
A similar scheme is perpetrated by emails that may contain links that, when clicked, download malware that give crooks access to your computer. Either way, the objective is the same: To steal your identity. Preventing this type of fraud is the same as with all identity theft. Do not ever provide personal information to a caller you do not know or click on links contained in an email that seems suspicious.
Americans are expected to return slowly to in-person shopping. In fact, a lot of online purchasing behavior that arose during the pandemic may become permanent. This means that package thieves and fraud perpetrators probably are not going anywhere. Protect yourself.