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Beware this online shopping scam: Fake order confirmations

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During the holiday season it’s not unusual for both UPS and FedEx to show up at the Bradley household on an almost daily basis. We receive order confirmation and shipping notification emails for each delivery—and that’s just what cybercriminals are counting on. It’s just one of the many ways they exploit the holiday season to target more victims.

Brian Krebs, a respected authority on security and all-things-cybercrime, wrote a cautionary post earlier this week. “If you receive an email this holiday season asking you to ‘confirm’ an online e-commerce order or package shipment, please resist the urge to click the included link or attachment: Malware purveyors and spammers are blasting these missives by the millions each day in a bid to trick people into giving up control over their computers and identities.”

The trick with any phishing campaign is to make the message or website appear legitimate. Poorly designed scams are often easy to spot, but cybercriminals are getting much better at crafting believable fakes.

“Scammers have become incredibly good at making fraudulent emails look legitimate to the untrained eye,” agrees Craig Young, security researcher with Tripwire. “Attackers will commonly flood the web with spam mail claiming you have a package waiting to be picked up, an order awaiting confirmation, and a plethora of other emails designed to get users to click links.”

The strategy and tactics aren’t any different than the rest of the year, really. Phishing scams typically leverage trending news or current events to capture attention—and increase the odds of compromising victims.

What makes the holiday shopping season different is volume. The unusually high number of legitimate order confirmation and shipping notification emails make it that much easier to inject fake malicious messages and trick victims into sharing sensitive data, or inadvertently downloading malware.

Ken Westin, security analyst with Tripwire, explains, “Phishing continues to be a successful attack vector, especially around the holidays because the attackers are able to take advantage of people’s impulsive nature more easily during this time of year.”

The Krebs On Security post cites information from Malcovery regarding the current phishing spam campaign. Malcovery claims the recent surge in fake order confirmation messages began around Thanksgiving, and uses a combination of malicious links and malicious file attachments to try and infect victim PCs with the Asprox spam botnet.

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Young stresses, “The key thing for consumers to remember is that unsolicited emails are always a big red flag,” adding “It may sound like a broken record but the fact of the matter is users must not blindly trust links from emails.”

As with most security concerns, standard best practices and a little common sense are all you need to protect yourself. It is understandable that you might be expecting order confirmation emails, and shipping notifications this time of year, but exercise caution when you receive them. Legitimate businesses shouldn’t be asking you to click links or open file attachments.

If you do receive a message about a problem with an order or shipment, don’t click any links or open any files. If it appears legitimate, open a new browser window and visit the vendor’s website yourself to check on order status, or just pick up the phone to clarify any potential issues without risking compromising your PC.

Beware of the mystery shopper scam

Never deposit a check for more than you are owed and wire money back to the person sending you the check, and never consider a payment you receive by check as being in your account until it has fully cleared. (Photo: Thinkstock)

The mystery shopper scam has been stealing money from unsuspecting victims for years.

It begins when you answer an advertisement or an email to become a “mystery shopper” — someone hired by a company to shop at a certain store and then report on the experience for quality control purposes.

The tipoff that these solicitations are scams can be immediate and obvious. Consider this copy of an email for a mystery shopper scam that I recently received, with its glaring grammatical errors and missing words:

“Hello, We are a company engaged in the mystery shopper field.
We need a team filled some people with age, residence location, experience and other different.

“Description;

“You will be assigned to visit the shop, store, bank, etc
You have to pretend to be a normal potential customers who’re looking for a specific product/service
You will then complete questionnaires online to share with us your customer’s experience
Get $350/assignment, at least 2 assignments/week will be assigned.

“Requirements;

“18 years old or above
Can read and write English
Can speak the local language well”

And the registration part,

“Registration;

“If you are interested reply this email fill out information below to get started:”

. . . Which asks for name, address, etc., . . .

“So we can look at your distance from the locations which you have to put your service, and your address would also be need for your payments.”

The bottom of the email identified a copyright date of 2005-2020 for the “Agent Center for MysteryShoppers.”

One reason this type of scam works so well is that there are real mystery shopper jobs. But keep in mind that so many people are interested in this work that the real mystery shopper companies have no need to advertise to hire people. So, they do not send out unsolicited emails such as the one above.

Once a victim takes the bait, they are sent what may appear to be a certified check. The victim is instructed to deposit it into his or her bank account and use the money to make the assigned purchases. The check is for more than the amount the mystery shopper is instructed to spend.

The victim is told to keep a specified amount as payment and wire back the remaining funds. It is only after the money has been wired from the victim’s own bank account that the victim learns that the check was counterfeit and has bounced. Of course, the funds wired from the victim’s bank account to the scammer are gone forever without any effective recourse.

This problem is made worse because banks give provisional credit to deposited checks after a few days, so it could appear at first glance that the check has cleared and the funds are fully available. But provisional credit can be rescinded once a check bounces. It can take weeks for a check to fully clear and the funds actually be transferred into the account of the person receiving the check.

Many victims of the mystery shopper scam have thought they were prudent because they waited a few days to confirm (or so they thought) that the check was legitimate. Only later do they find out they only had received provisional credit for a check that was in the end no good.

The sending of a check for more than is actually owed and requesting the remainder be wired back is the basis of many scams. These include the sale of products in response to online advertisements placed by legitimate sellers who are scammed into sending their own money to scammers pretending to purchase their items for sale.

Another variation of the mystery shopper scam involves thieves that solicit payments for information about becoming a mystery shopper or offering a certification program or registration program for which you have to pay.

MSPA Americas, which was formerly known as the Mystery Shopping Providers Association of North America, is a trade organization made up of legitimate mystery shopping companies. Scammers will often send emails or make telephone calls posing as either MSPA Americas or one of its member companies. But of course neither the MSPA Americas nor any of its member companies will ever ask you to deposit checks and wire excess funds to them.

So how do you recognize and avoid this scam?

1. Simply ignore emails or advertisements for mystery shopper jobs. They are scams.
2. Research online particular mystery shopping companies you may want to consider contacting to make sure they are legitimate.
3. Don’t pay a fee to get a list of mystery shopping opportunities.
4. Don’t pay to become certified as a mystery shopper.
5. Always be skeptical when you are asked to wire money in any business transaction. Unlike credit card payments where you can get fraudulent payments erased or sending a check that you can stop payment on, wired funds are irretrievable from the moment they are sent.

And the most important tip of all:

6. Never deposit a check for more than you are owed and wire money back to the person sending you the check, and never consider a payment you receive by check as being in your account until it has fully cleared.

Missionou.myshopify.com Review: Beware Of This Scam Online Store

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