Shipping ScamsWhen Criminals Hide Behind Delivery Carriers to Commit Fraud

June 21, 2023 | 9 min read

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A woman holds a phone in her hand, she is looking at a suspicious notification, she thinks it’s from a scammer so she is not pleased. Red and teal.

Shipping Scams

In a Nutshell

That “non-delivery” note you find on your front door? It’s probably from UPS… but there’s a chance it’s not. Or, what about that unsolicited text you received from FedEx, or the email from USPS. How can you tell if these messages are legit? In this post, we look at some of the various eCommerce shipping fraud ploys, and outline ways potential victims can protect themselves.

How to Identify & Prevent Shipping Scams & Delivery Fraud

Scams are big business. Fraudsters are constantly inventing new techniques to separate victims from their hard-earned cash. Shipping scams are particularly successful, in part because they mimic the ways real order delivery works.

But, how does this type of fraud happen? And most importantly: how do you protect yourself? Read on to find out.

What is a Shipping Scam?

Shipping Scam

[noun]/shi • puhng • skam/

Shipping scams are a type of fraud attack involving a criminal that poses as a recognized courier service, such as FedEx or DHL. This is usually to trick victims into revealing personal information.

Americans spent over $1 trillion in eCommerce purchases in 2022, according to a report from Digital Commerce 360. The numbers for 2023 are tracking even higher. For scammers, the proliferation of packages being shipped presents a golden opportunity.

Most shipping scams start when the fraudster contacts a potential victim via phone, email, or SMS message. The caller claims to be an agent of a delivery service like FedEx, UPS, or even the US Postal Service. They will attempt to convince the buyer that an order cannot be delivered without additional information.

For example, the fraudster may ask the victim to “verify” private information and credit card details. The request has nothing to do with the actual order, of course. The person on the other end of the conversation is a cybercriminal that wants personal information to commit identity theft or other financial fraud.

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Email or SMS messages typically include a bogus tracking link that leads to what may appear to be the shipper’s official site. In reality, it’s a phishing website. In fact, one of the key elements in these scams is the ability of the fraudster to make their texts, emails, and landing pages look as legitimate as possible.

Why are Shipping Scams so Common?

Why do these bad actors focus in on shipping scams in particular, though? There are a few reasons:

Shipping Scams are Easy

Account passwords,  banking logins, credit card details — any personal data the victim may supply can be leveraged for illegitimate purchases. Malware can also hide in the background and collect information over time, then pass that info along to a scammer.

It can be hard to convince victims to willingly hand over this information in most circumstances. However, if a victim believes it’s necessary to provide information to ensure they receive a package, they’re more likely to cooperate.

Shipping Scams are Profitable

Like most successful scams, eCommerce shipping fraud is popular because it’s profitable. 

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the money lost to fraud in 2022 grew 30% over the previous year. Shipping and delivery fraud typically falls under the broader category of “imposter fraud;” the scammer falsely claims affiliation with a well-known company or government entity.

Imposter fraud cost Americans $2.6 billion in 2022. Many scams go unreported, though. As a result, the real cost is likely to be much higher for both consumers and merchants.

Shipping Scams are Flexible

Shipping scams allow a lot of flexibility for the fraudster. Although most schemes fall into predictable patterns, criminals can adapt a well-established technique to suit a variety of different products and situations.

Many of the ploys can also be changed “mid-scam.” To illustrate, let’s say a fraudster calls a consumer trying to get personal information, but the recipient starts getting suspicious. Rather than push for info over the phone, the crook tells the victim they can also confirm the order online, and provides a URL. Consumers visiting the site will then have malware uploaded to their computers.

Types of Shipping Scams

Shipping fraud can take on a lot of different forms. Some are more common than others, though. Here are a few of the ploys scammers commonly use:

Shipping Scams

Calling the Victim

The scammer phones potential victims with a fake shipping notification. The scammer then asks for personal information to “confirm” order information, like their address, credit card number, etc.
Shipping Scams

Calling the Fraudster

An “attempted delivery” message is left on the target’s door. The message includes a telephone number to call and arrange for delivery. Again, personal information is solicited by the scammer to complete this fake “delivery.”
Shipping Scams

Text or Email Phishing

The victim receives an SMS message, or an email requesting that they visit a specific URL to confirm an order. Once on the site, malware is uploaded to the user’s device.
Shipping Scams

The "Door Hanger" Scam

A variant approach to phishing, scammers hook professional-looking cards on the victim’s door. The card will often have the user’s name, address, and a fake tracking number, along with a phony URL or QR code. When the victim visits the site, they will be hit with a malware attack.
Shipping Scams

Porch Theft

This is one of the most basic types of shipping fraud. The scammer steals items right off the victim’s doorstep. Not only does the scammer get whatever merchandise was left, they may also get sensitive information tied to the goods stolen, or printed on the invoice/packing slip. By engaging with a fraudulent caller, the consumer suggests they actually are awaiting a delivery of some type. The scammer may then watch that residence for a delivery that could be snatched.

Warning Signs of Shipping Fraud

Online shopping devotees may end up with several package deliveries every week. On the other end of the spectrum, some consumers may only make the occasional online purchase. Either way, it can sometimes be difficult to keep track of expected deliveries. This makes it easier to fall for a phony delivery notice.

It’s important to know and understand some of the main “red flags” of potential shipping scams. These include:

  • The sender can’t be confirmed: If the domain name of the email address doesn’t match the company URL, it’s likely a scam.
  • The link doesn’t match: Fraudsters often use links with misspelled or slightly altered website addresses, such as “” or “”
  • Everything links to the same URL: Check every link in the email – including the “unsubscribe” button. If they all go to the same page, that page is a trap.
  • Non-matching phone number: If you’re asked to call a phone number that isn’t on the company’s website, you should call the listed number included on the website, instead.
  • Spelling and grammatical errors: Even professionals can miss the occasional typo. That said, multiple mistakes or stilted language point to a scam.
  • Urgency: Fraudsters often use minor threats (such as non-delivery) to create a sense of urgency, hoping the victim will act without thinking.
  • Requests for personal info: No delivery service needs any personal information from someone to whom they are delivering a package. If they ask, don’t engage.

These aren’t all the threat vectors, of course. A message you receive may show none of the “tell-tale” signs of a shipping scam, but can still be fraudulent nonetheless. Here’s a good rule of thumb: if anything seems even the slightest bit suspicious, trust your instincts.


Delivery scams are a year-round problem, but they’re particularly prevalent during the holidays. More shopping is done, and more packages are shipped. Fraudsters count on busy consumers being too distracted to notice the fraud until it’s too late.

The best defense against scammers is common sense. Adopting these simple rules can help safeguard you from shipping scams and other types of online fraud:

  • Never provide personal information to unsolicited messages or calls.
  • Always get tracking numbers and follow the progress of your order.
  • Never click on suspicious email links or attachments.
  • Confirm the authenticity of any delivery messages with the actual carrier
  • Prevent porch theft by not having packages sitting on the doorstep.

Shipping Scams Can Target Merchants, too

Up to now, we have largely been talking about shipping fraud as it relates to consumers. However, all of the techniques mentioned can also be tweaked to work against business. 

Imagine an employee coming to work on Monday morning and seeing a failed delivery notice stuck on the front door of the business. Calling the attached number would be human nature. Fraudsters can cause a lot of damage if they manage to get data from a corporate card, though.

In addition to the general best practices mentioned above, here are a few tips designed specifically to help merchants prevent shipping fraud from hurting their business:

  • Provide ongoing training: Train employees to spot the common warning signs of a potential fraud attack.
  • Have a clear action plan: Set up clear protocols to follow if an employee does get caught by a scam; make sure everyone understands their responsibility.
  • Have a point person: Part of an action plan should be to designate a “go-to” person, to whom employees report cases of fraud or suspected fraud.
  • Keep up-to-date: New scams are emerging every day. Provide regular communications to keep employees informed on the latest ploys.

Keep in mind: shipping scams are only one of the fraud threats merchants face. If you’re a merchant struggling with fraud and risk mitigation, our patented technology can help. Contact us today for more information.


How do shipping scams happen?

Many start with a text, voice message, or email about a non-delivered package or missed delivery. These messages typically include either a number to call or a “tracking link” to click in order to provide delivery information. If the victim responds, the scammer will attempt to obtain personal information to be used for fraud.

Is there a scam shipping to the wrong address?

Yes. For example, in a change-of-address scam, the fraudsters trick the postal service into diverting your mail to a new address. There are also fake tracking scams where shipments are sent to one address but marked “delivered” to a different address. While technically a type of shipping scam, these ploys are often more complex than other types of delivery fraud.

How do I know if a shipping notification is real?

The biggest clue is the information they request. No real shipping carrier will ask for personal information. In addition, carefully check any notices, emails, or text messages you receive against the real carrier’s website or customer service line.

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