As the holidays approach and many people turn to online shopping to buy gifts, experts warn against falling for scam emails -- disguised as delivery notices -- that often spike in popularity at this time of year.
These scam emails generally appear to be a message from an identifiable shipping service such as FedEx, DHL Express, UPS or the U.S. Postal Service. The contents of the scam emails may vary slightly, but many will say that there was a failed delivery and ask you to follow a link or download an attachment for more information. Tech experts say that these links or attachments could contain a virus or other malware.
"These emails ask the receiver to open an attachment in order to obtain the airbill or invoice needed to pick up their package," the shipping giant FedEx wrote on its website. "The attachment in the email may contain a virus. Please do not open the attachment and delete the email immediately.
"The frequency of this email tends to increase close to the holiday season, presumably to exploit the growth in shipping volumes," FedEx added.
While this email scamming tactic has been around for years, it often is particularly popular during Christmastime, experts say. The Federal Trade Commission issued a warning for consumers about this in mid-December 2014, saying that when you receive one of these phony emails "if you download the attachment or click on a link, you’re likely to end up with a virus or malware on your device."
"Con artists often use the names and logos of familiar organizations to get under your guard," the FTC warned.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) included fake shipping notifications this year on its annual list of "holiday scams." The BBB explained why the scam emails are dangerous.
"These can have attachments or links to sites that will download malware on your computer to steal your identity and your passwords," the BBB wrote on its website. "Don’t be fooled by a holiday phishing scam."
DHL Express, an international shipping group, also warns consumers on its website that many scammers may be using the DHL name and brand in order to deceive users into clicking on links in the email. The shipping group cautioned, "If you received an email suggesting that DHL is attempting to deliver a package requesting that you open the email attachment in order to affect delivery, this email is fraudulent, the package does not exist and the attachment may be a computer virus.
"Please do not open the attachment. This email and attachment does not originate from DHL," the group added.
UPS also issued an advisory to its consumers, including a list of example scam emails, so that people can see what they look like.
The FTC said the best way to spot a phony email is to see if the email asks you to click on a link or download an attachment. Another red flag to look for is whether the email "urges you to take immediate action," according to the FTC. Lastly, if an email ever asks you to "'re-confirm' personal or financial information," it is likely not legitimate.
The FTC added that a "sure sign an email is a scam" is if you hover your mouse over a link in an email and it doesn't show the official website of the supposed sender.