Online fraudsters are using text messages to trick people into handing over their credit card details, in a cybercrime con that police say is fooling dozens of people every single week.
Scammers are typically taking between €800 and €1,800 per victim, with as many as 20 police reports being filed every single day.
The scam is very similar to one that played out in France during the 2020 Christmas period, and investigators believe a ring of cybercriminals operating outside the European Union are behind it.
Victims are typically lured through an SMS text message purporting to be from a postal or parcel delivery service. The text message informs them that they must pay a nominal fee – usually under €2 – to ensure delivery of a parcel.
Once victims submit their credit card details, the scam is complete and the cybercriminals begin withdrawing money from accounts.
One such victim told Times of Malta that she was fooled as she happened to be expecting a parcel to arrive.
Autofill features on her phone meant that she clicked to approve the payment without giving herself a minute to think about it. Within hours, she started receiving withdrawal alerts.
"I quickly called my bank. They blocked my card immediately and told me 'we think you've been scammed," she said.
This type of scam is known as a phishing attack and is designed to lure you into a sense of security by pretending to be from a company that you know or trust.
"Not everyone would realise. My mother would never notice something like that. And €1,000 is a lot of money [to lose] from her pension," she said.
Five ways to avoid getting scammed
1. Read messages carefully
Ask yourself whether the request is unusual: have you ever been asked to send money or provide personal details for this service before? Always think twice before clicking URLs in text messages and remember that reputable companies will never ask you for personal
2. Look closely at the URL (link address)
You can usually identify a scam attempt by looking at the URL it is directing you to. If the address contains misspelt words or is not that of the company in question, alarm bells should go off.
3. Contact the company
If you are not sure whether a text message you received is genuine, reach out to the company directly. Do not use the contact details provided in the suspicious message. Find their phone number elsewhere, and give them a call.
4. Use a separate card for online purchases
It may be inconvenient, but try and avoid using your primary banking card for online purchases. Use a separate card linked to a different account that contains limited funds, or use a virtual card if your payment service allows you to.
5. Contact your bank
Failed to spot a scam? Don’t panic. Contact your bank right away and let them know what has happened, to ensure your bank card is blocked immediately. Keep a note of all the details about the scam that you have – they will come in useful when you file a police report.