For several weeks, British people have been targeted by a sophisticated SMS text messaging scam, now known as the Royal Mail parcel scam. Thousands of people have already been caught out by these rogue messages that seem to come from Royal Mail – and some victims have lost thousands of pounds as cybercriminals empty their bank accounts.

Realising the scale of the problem, UK police forces have been fighting back. A series of recent dawn raids saw eight men arrested under suspicion of being involved in the text message scam.

A nationwide network

Simultaneous raids were carried out on addresses in Birmingham, Coventry, London and Colchester, giving some indication of how widespread this network of scammers is. Seven of the suspects were released and remain under investigation.

The eighth suspect has been arrested and charged with several offences related to the smishing scam. These include possession of articles for use in fraud and possession of criminal property (money laundering).

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The investigation is ongoing, headed up by the Dedicated Card and Payment Crime Unit (DCPCU). This division specialises in online fraud like the Royal Mail text message scam. The head of the DCPCU was clear that these eight arrests are not the end of the story, “Ongoing investigations are now under way and we will continue to work together to bring those committing smishing scams to justice.”

Protecting yourself against smishing

Although it is good to see the police taking action against criminal networks, it is still too late for the people who have already been scammed. To avoid becoming a victim yourself, you must take a few precautionary measures.

First, stay alert. The Royal Mail text scam is particularly effective because it looks real. However Royal Mail never requests additional payments by text unless you have previously registered for the service – most people have not. If you have not signed up for the service or have not placed any online orders, the message is probably fake.

Second, take a close look at the link address included in the message. If it points to anything but royalmail.com, it is fake. This includes addresses that look very similar, like royalmail.prioritydelivery-fee.com or royal mail-reschedulepackage.com – both of these examples are fake.

Third check your letterbox for a postcard. Royal Mail always sends a postcard to let you know if there is an additional charge payable on your packages. No postcard, no charge; further proof that the text is a fake.

Third, install anti-malware on your phone. Mobile antivirus software like Panda Android Antivirus may not block scam text messages or stop you clicking on dodgy links, but they will stop malware being downloaded and installed on your smartphone. No malware means that your phone and personal information is safe from hackers and scammers.

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