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Warning over spate of fake texts claiming customs charges owed on online buys

Warnings issued as scammers are using so-called “sim towers” to circulate fake text messages purporting to be from legitimate parcel delivery firms.

A screengrab of one of the smishing text messages.
A screengrab of one of the smishing text messages.
Image: Journal.ie

SCAMMERS HAVE INCREASED their efforts to target Christmas online shoppers as they continue to send fake text messages seeking extra payments for parcel deliveries.

The latest scam hit this week with multiple reports of a text message purporting to be from international parcel company UPS.

The text advises its victims that an unpaid customs fee is required before the parcel can be delivered. There is a link provided, however this is not from UPS and gardaí have advised not to interact with the messages. 

“Please remember, never click a link to an unsolicited text and never give away personal data like PINs, card numbers and passwords,” a garda spokesman said. 

Gardaí have advised anyone who has clicked on the link to immediately contact them. 

UPS have also issued a warning and advised customers to not engage with emails or other communications, cautioning that the links on the scams could contain malware that can corrupt the recipients’ device.

“If UPS contacts you regarding a package, the UPS representative will always be able to provide a tracking number, which you can verify on our website.

“You also should know that UPS may contact you from time to time regarding service offerings or for marketing purposes, but you may always verify our phone number and call back before proceeding,” UPS advise. 

scam pic A screengrab issued by gardai of a recent text message scam. Source: Garda Press Office

A spokesman for An Post said that the company’s system is dealing with a 230% increase in parcel deliveries from 2019 figures.

“We have been dealing with Christmas-level parcel traffic since March, there are a number of reasons for this, including the Covid 19 lockdown and an increase in online shopping.

“We have been subject to a number of these text message scams but we have successfully taken down a number of these and we advise people to not interact with them and report them to the gardai.

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“We are advising people to be cyber aware, legitimate companies will not send those kind of messages to your phone or by email,” the spokesman explained. 

A fraud investigation source told TheJournal.ie that the so-called smishing scams, or sms phishing, are conducted using a “sim box” which has the capacity to send out thousands of text messages.

“There is a marked increase as Christmas nears. This crime can be done by as little as one person. The sim box is essentially a computer tower with a component that allows them to use ports for phone sims. The scammer will have a list of phone numbers and the software will send the texts out. 

“This can be conducted from anywhere in the world but it is not just an international crime and the gardai have come across suspects operating in Ireland and have carried out searches at locations specifically targeting these people.

“Some of it is from organised crime groups but it can be also just one or two people,” a source said. 

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