BBB offers top ways to avoid delivery scams and porch pirates

The holiday shopping season has officially kicked off, and as expected, BBB is receiving reports of delivery related scams and "porch pirates" – thieves who brazenly steal delivered items right off your front step or porch.

With millions of packages delivered each year, con artists know that many people are expecting package deliveries and are less likely to second guess a message that prompts action or information to finalize a delivery. Thieves also know there will be more packages delivered and sitting at the front of residences.

These scenarios make people more vulnerable to package and delivery scams during the holiday season. Fortunately, there are many ways to protect yourself from the shady tactics. Here's tips from your BBB to help you identify and avoid delivery related issues so you can focus on enjoying the holidays with family and friends:

— Watch for phishing texts or emails claiming to be from delivery companies. It can be hard to tell a valid delivery text from a bogus one, but there's common red flags to watch for. The bogus messages usually claim that the shipper is having difficulty delivering a package or needs an update to your delivery preferences. In either case, a "tracking link" is included, and that's where the issues come in.

By clicking on a link in a message from an unknown or unexpected sender, you could be taken to a form that's designed to gain personal information and steal your identity. A link could also lead you to a site that downloads malware onto your computer or phone without you detecting it. This could include a virus or even spyware that allows scammers to gather your keystrokes. As you log into your accounts, including your bank accounts, they could be tracking your login information.

— Beware of fake "missed delivery" tags or similar calls. With these scams, someone places a note on your door that claims they are having challenges delivering a package to you. They ask you to call a phone number or visit a website to reschedule your delivery, but it's actually another ruse to trick you into sharing your personal information.

In similar cases, you might receive a phone call from someone purporting to be with a legitimate delivery company. Your caller ID could even show that they're calling from a well-known delivery business, but it's rare that a delivery company calls you. Caller ID spoofing apps are readily available and used often by scammers to trick you into thinking you're being contacted by a trustworthy company.

You can take several precautions to ensure a safe delivery of your orders and gifts:

— Always get delivery tracking numbers and check the shipping progress periodically. If you have ordered gifts that will be delivered to your home or directly to family and friends, be sure you always get delivery tracking numbers and check the shipping progress periodically. You only want to check by using what you've confirmed is a valid website for the shipper providing delivery.

If you receive a message asking you to update your delivery preferences, you should take the same steps to confirm that you're accessing the shipper's legitimate website and use its options to either check your order or your account information to see if the requests are valid.

— Examine "missed delivery" forms carefully. If you find a "missed delivery" notice on your door, examine it to make sure it is authentic. Only follow up if you are sure the notice is from a trusted delivery company. Check the items you've ordered and then visit the delivery carrier's site, but not until you confirm you're on its valid site. You can then log in and use the retailer's tracking tools — but should still stay on guard and watch for suspicious links.

You'll want to take similar steps if someone calls you about a "missed delivery," Don't provide the information by phone. Instead, look up the correct contact information for the delivery company the caller claims to be with, and ask the company if the call was valid.

As noted above, another issue shoppers face is package theft. Many consumers have had their packages stolen before they arrive home from work. Thieves also snatch packages from doorsteps or lobbies of apartment or condo complexes. Criminals even follow delivery and postal trucks. As soon as a truck leaves, the crooks move in and grab the parcels.

To help minimize the chance of having your packages hijacked, consider taking the following steps:

— Don't leave unattended packages. When possible, do not leave delivered packages unattended for long periods. If you are expecting a package, attempt to schedule its delivery when you know you will be home. Ask your neighbors if they mind picking up the package for you, especially if you plan to be gone for an extended time. Also, consider having the package delivered to your workplace or directly to the address of a trusted friend who you know will be home.

— Ship to store. If you're purchasing an item from a retailer with a physical location near your home, consider shipping it there instead. Retailers will require proof of purchase or identification before releasing packages they have received, and this is a sure way to avoid porch pirates.

— Use a security camera. Installing a home security system with cameras or a camera-enabled doorbell is a great way to deter package theft, especially when highly visible. Consider including a sign that specifically states that the residence is under surveillance. Even if a package is stolen from your porch, the video evidence will help law enforcement track down the thieves (but be wary of the risk of internet-connected devices and research before you purchase).

— Require a signature. Many delivery companies include the option to require a signature before leaving a package, letting you take physical possession of the item as soon as it is delivered. While this option works well for those often at home, especially for expensive items, it may create difficulties in receiving packages if your schedule and the delivery service differ. Be sure to check with the delivery company on its policy for packages that are not signed for; the c0mpany may return it to the sender after a certain number of attempts.

— Consider a package receiving service. Some major retailers, such as Amazon, offer secure package-receiving locations away from your home that you can access with a key or code. Some independent businesses also specialize in this service, allowing you to designate a different delivery location for your packages and the ability to pick them up on your way home.

For more information about shopping and safety during the holidays, visit BBB's holiday HQ at

BBB's Festive Forest is now open!

To complement EPB's tradition with its joyful holiday windows, BBB is partnering with EPB and the city of Chattanooga to bring our community the Festive Forest in Miller Park! Come out to enjoy 50 beautiful Frazier firs that have been sponsored and creatively decorated by local, trustworthy businesses and organizations.

BBB has also designated one tree to serve as a special Memorial Tree and invites the community to bring ornaments to hang and display in memory of loved ones. The event is free and runs through New Years.

Michele Mason is president of the Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga.

  photo  Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Michele Mason poses for a portrait on Monday, June 14, 2021 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

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