Hackers are sending customers fake shipping messages appearing to come from Amazon and UPS as a ‘shipageddon’ is expected during a hectic shopping season

Fake delivery notices imitating Amazon, UPS, FedEx surge during biggest online shopping season ever

By Katie Schoolov, Business Insider

Online shopping is in the midst of its biggest season ever, with Amazon reporting third-party sales of $4.8 billion in the days after Thanksgiving, up 60% from last year. Now, hackers are sending out fake shipping notification links to capitalize on the surge.

The fraudulent delivery messages appear to come from Amazon, FedEx, UPS and other major shippers, but they launch malware or mine for personal information. Cybersecurity firm Check Point Software Technologies found these messages impersonating shippers were up 440% from October to November, and 72% since November last year.

Long Beach realtor Tom Hoehn was expecting a package from UPS when he got one of these emails.

“It looked like it was from UPS and it said we were unable to deliver your package. However, if you click on the following link you can look up the tracking information on that package and then you can reroute it back to your place. At that point, I clicked on the link and my screen started flashing,” Hoehn said.

“The message said, ‘You have been hacked. We have encrypted all of your files. Send, I think it was like 150 bitcoins to this address.”

A fake shipping link can launch ransomware like it did for Hoehn, or it can redirect to a counterfeit branded page that asks for credit card or personal information to reroute a package, or tricks you into entering your username and password.

When Hoehn chose not to pay the ransom of some 150 bitcoins, the equivalent of more than $66,000 at the time, he lost everything on the computer including his family pictures and business contacts. Months later, the IRS informed him his identity had been stolen. Then his email was hacked, with phishing emails sent to thousands of his contacts.

“We have our mind on other things like pandemic and our kids getting remotely educated,” said Brian Linder, a threat prevention manager at Check Point. “And it’s a perfect time for these bad actors to prey on consumers that are not paying close attention.”

Check Point found that 65% of fake shipping messages in the U.S. impersonate Amazon.

“They’re successful because most of us are doing business with Amazon. We’re ordering on Amazon. And for us to get an email from Amazon about a package we ordered would be perfectly normal and expected,” Linder said.

Amazon told CNBC it works with the Federal Trade Commission or Better Business Bureau to go after scammers and said in a statement, “Any customer that receives a questionable email, call or text from a person impersonating an Amazon employee should report them to Amazon customer service. Amazon investigates these complaints and will take action, if warranted.”

The phishing messages also commonly impersonate UPS, FedEx and DHL, which all have their own dedicated reporting emails. The companies that make our devices are also on guard. Microsoft, for example, has a Digital Crimes Unit that works with law enforcement and claims to have “rescued” more than 500 million devices from cyber criminals since 2010. Apple, meanwhile, offers public recognition and even bounties of up to a million dollars to users who report security issues.

Some big warning signs to watch out for include slight misspellings or incorrect logos, unencrypted landing sites, and messages with a countdown urging consumers to act quickly.

The best protection, experts say, is to prevent the scam messages from reaching your device in the first place. Operating systems have built in security protections, which is one reason software updates are crucial. Apps like Nomorobo offer additional blocking features, and users can help by changing passwords often, turning on two-factor authentication and using a variety of different email accounts and passwords for different online activities.

Investigations into phishing attacks are usually conducted by the Federal Trade Commission.

“It’s really important that we empower and adequately fund the agencies that go after these scammers. Number one, the Federal Trade Commission, they have a huge responsibility to police unfair and deceptive practices across the entire economy and yet their workforce and their funding is only a fraction of what it was in the 1970s,” said John Breyault, vice president of public Policy, telecommunications, and fraud at the National Consumers League.

As enforcement struggles to keep up, scammers are constantly finding ways to exploit the next trend.

“Consumers should really expect to start seeing messages on social media, emails, phone calls, text messages offering to get you to the front of the line for the vaccine if you’ll pay some money up front. That is a big worry for us.”

If you do fall victim to one of these scams – or even just come across one – report it directly to the Federal Trade Commission or through the Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker tool. You can inform mobile carriers of a spam text by forwarding it directly to SPAM.

‘God will forgive me or not’: Inside the world of a people smuggler

By Hafizullah Maroof

Before he got on the boat to make the clandestine crossing, Shafiullah called his family in Afghanistan to tell them he was OK and on his way to Turkey.

After the call, Shafiullah, who was 16, boarded the boat. He was one of about 100 passengers that night, last June, and one of thousands of men who have have fled Afghanistan every month this year in search of a more secure life in Europe.

Shafiullah was already inside Turkey, but the people smugglers he had paid to ferry him to Istanbul were heading across Lake Van to avoid police roadblocks. The lake’s waters are dangerous, and the smugglers were setting out at night.

Somewhere across the water, the vessel they had chosen to carry their human cargo – including at least 32 Afghans, seven Pakistanis and one Iranian – sank. Sixty-one bodies were recovered, but the rest, including Shafiullah, are missing. Some bodies could be deep below the surface, Turkish authorities told the BBC, making recovery unlikely.

At least four of those thought to have perished, including Shafiullah, were sent by a smuggler in Kabul. The BBC approached the smuggler and he agreed to talk on the condition that his identity was disguised.

‘Everything is arranged by phone’

Elham Noor (not his real name) has well-established links with other criminals and claims a high success rate in sending people to Italy, France, and the UK.

“Smuggling is not an individual business, it’s a huge network,” he said. “We have connections with one another.” Nppr doesn’t travel with the migrants though. “Everything is arranged over the phone,” he said.

Noor has no shortage of clients. Many Afghans are desperate to leave their country. Afghanistan is among the poorest in the world, it has been ravaged by decades of war. According to the United Nations, 2.7 million Afghans are currently living abroad as refugees – putting Afghanistan behind only Syria and Venezuela in the list of countries which produce the most migrants and refugees.

So Noor has no need to advertise. His clients call him. Young Afghans looking to make the journey will typically seek out a trafficker who has already sent somebody else from their region.

But only a small percentage of those who try to reach Europe succeed at their first attempt, and some never return.

Shafiullah’s uncle Sher Afzal said the family knew the journey would be dangerous. “But we didn’t anticipate this,” said.

Afzal is in mourning, but it’s a strange, hollow kind of grieving that lacks certainty. Shafiullah is still listed as missing. The family, who live in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, would like to hold a memorial service for Shafiullah, but they have no remains. There has already been a ceremony for the two migrants whose bodies were recovered.

“Now we want to see his dead body. We don’t expect him to be alive,” Afzal said.

Shafiullah saw no prospect of a future in Jalalabad. He contacted Noor to get passage to Italy, paying the trafficker $1,000 (£741) as a first instalment. He was bundled together with other migrants and moved from one place to another in cars, trucks, and sometimes on foot.

Shafiullah crossed Iran and entered Turkey, but his journey came to an end on Lake Van, moments after he called his family.

Noor told the BBC he paid the money back to Shafiullah’s family and to others whose journey’s were cut short. Shafiullah’s family confirmed that they had received the money.

$8,500 to get to Italy

Noor said the tragedy had added to his misgivings about people smuggling. He recognises the human cost when things go wrong, he said. But it is a lucrative trade, and a hard one to leave after so many years.

“We charge $1,000 for Afghanistan to Turkey,” Noor said. “From Turkey to Serbia, it is $4,000. From there to Italy, we charge another $3,500. It is $8,500 altogether.”

These are huge sums of money in a country where the average per capita annual income is just over $500. Noor pockets between $3,000 and $3,500 for every migrant who successfully reaches Italy.

And all Noor has to do to is pick up the phone, arrange some money transfers and pay the occasional bribe to the Afghan authorities. He never meets anyone in person who is not known to him or a close relative or friend. He relies on his reputation to bring in clients and is wary of speaking to strangers.

It’s a comfortable life, particularly by Afghan standards, and the trappings of wealth are obvious – the cars, the clothes, the houses.

Noor knows that migrants face a risky journey without travel documents. They are kept hidden during the day and moved at night, using the network’s safe houses along the way, in cities like Tehran, Van and Istanbul, he said.

The migrants are advised not to carry any valuables like expensive jewellery or watches which could attract thieves. Noor usually tells the migrants not to carry more than $100 in cash.

The journey to Turkey, a major hub for Afghans heading to Europe, can take from a week to a couple of months, depending on what happens on the way.

One migrant who made it to Istanbul, passing through on his way to the West, was Hazrat Shah, a former soldier in the Afghan army.

After his village came under the control of the Taliban, the 25-year-old feared reprisal attacks on his family, so he deserted from his unit and decided to leave the country. He set off from Nangarhar in eastern Afghanistan earlier this year, attempting to make it to Italy.

“After reaching the border [between Turkey and Iran], it took almost a month to arrive in Istanbul. I stayed there for a few months and worked in hotels to earn money to pay for the smugglers,” Shah told the BBC.

The eastern Mediterranean route, which involves crossing the sea between Turkey and Greece, is particularly favoured by migrants. The European border agency estimates that in the first 10 months of this year, more than 17,000 people crossed over to Europe through this route, and almost a quarter of these are thought to be Afghan.

It was difficult to get from Greece to Bosnia – Shah was deported several times before he made it – but his attempts to move further met with repeated failure.

“It was horrible. In the last attempt I was injured as well. The police beat me a lot,” he said. “They took our shoes and jumpers. We were forced to return in the dark. It is so hard to get through.”

‘The smugglers can’t help’

Shah is not sure if he will ever get to Italy, but he is in no mood to call the people smugglers back in Afghanistan for help. They disappear at the first sign of trouble, he said, and many who undertake the journey regret trusting them.

“There is a possibility that you can die or be injured or abducted at every stage of the journey – and nobody can help you,” he said. “It is not possible for them [the people smugglers] to help as they are afraid of the police. It is a dirty game.”

Shah said he had lived in horrific conditions for many months and has seen many die on the way.

“You will receive very little food and water to keep you alive. I saw people dying of thirst without water. Other migrants can’t help them because if you give your water to them, you face the same situation,” he said.

According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), more than 1,000 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean this year. This is mainly because they are forced to travel on overcrowded boats, often during rough weather. Many others, like Shafiullah, die before reaching the Mediterranean and are not even included in this statistic.

But there is no shortage of Afghans wanting to migrate. After an explosion near the German embassy in Kabul in 2017, which killed at least 150 people, most European countries closed their visa application centres in Afghanistan, which has made travelling legally to Europe even harder and only increased the flow of clients seeking the services of smugglers like Noor.

From migrant to trafficker

Noor himself was once in a similar situation. Like so many others, he too once dreamed of living a comfortable life in the UK. He undertook the same journey when he was just 14. His dad paid $5,000 to smugglers.

“I still remember the difficulties of my journey, particularly in Bulgaria where we were kept hidden in trains – I was even forced to jump from a moving train,” Noor said.

In Calais, Noor was offered a commission of 100 euros (£90) for every migrant he introduced to a smuggler. This is how he got his start in the business of people smuggling.

Noor reached the UK illegally and continued to work with smugglers. But he returned to Afghanistan at the age of 21 when he realised the police were looking for him, he said.

Some of the migrants who managed to reach Europe through Noor’s network passed on his details to others, and his network and reputation grew.

“Despite the uncertainty, people still trust me to take them out of the country,” he said.

Noor said about 100 people who paid him to deliver them to a better life were currently on their way to Europe. But he insisted they would be the last. He was getting out of the business, he claimed. He said the disaster with Shafiullah’s boat had hurt him, but the migrants knew the risks.

“I apologised many times to the families. I told them clearly in the beginning, anything can happen on the way,” he said. “They have accepted this. God will decide whether to forgive me or not.”

Another trafficker who knew Noor said he would find it difficult to stop.

“People will continue to call him for years to come, and the chance to make money won’t simply go away the moment he calls it quits,” the trafficker said.

Whether Noor gets out or not, the people smuggling will continue. Many thousands Afghans will still be desperate for a safer and better life.

In Autumn, not long after Shafiullah’s boat sank, two of his relatives made it as far as Turkey. They have just been deported back home.

When the weather gets warmer next summer, they may try again.

Authorities know where the kidnapped Nigerian schoolboys are, says state governor

By Eoin McSweeney, CNN

(CNN) — The location of 337 students who were unaccounted for after gunmen attacked a school in northwestern Nigeria on Friday, is now known by government authorities, according to state governor Aminu Bello Masari. Talks are ongoing to secure their release and the children are safe, he told CNN’s Becky Anderson on Wednesday.

“We’re not hearing any concrete demand, but we’ll make sure that the children are simply back home,” he said. “All the areas have been secured but the security forces here are not firing because we want to make sure that… we don’t get any collateral damage.”

Local police said a large number of attackers riding motorbikes ambushed the all-boys Government Science Secondary School in Kankara, Katsina State, last week. The attack may have been a kidnapping-for-ransom attempt, they said.

There have been varying estimates of the number of children kidnapped from the school. Government officials said it was difficult to accurately track the numbers, as some children ran away during the attack and others escaped and made their way back to villages and to the school through the weekend.

“We [the government] are ultimately responsible,” said Masari.

A man claiming to be a leader of Boko Haram said on Tuesday the terror group was responsible for the kidnapping, according to a short audio message shared with Nigerian media and reviewed by CNN.

“I am Abubakar Shekau and our brothers are behind the kidnapping in Katsina,” said the man in the recording. Shekau is the leader of one of Boko Haram’s factions.

Masari did not dismiss the voice note entirely but cautioned that “more concrete evidence” was needed before it could be confirmed that Boko Haram was involved.

The kidnappers have not made a direct demand yet, but a child of a teacher who was among the kidnapped contacted his father. He only complained about the air force flying overhead and mentioned they may need money.

When asked if he would pay a ransom, Masari said it’s not “the policy of our government” to do so.

“We’ll find other ways of securing the lives and the freedom of the children,” he added.

The kidnapping is outside Boko Haram’s usual area of activity. Their operations have generally focused in the northeast of the country, though security analysts believe that their reach has shifted after a security crackdown in that region.

Boko Haram claims to have kidnapped Nigerian schoolboys, in unverified audio message

There have been multiple kidnappings for ransom in Katsina State in recent years, but not on this scale.

Several witnesses told CNN that those who targeted the school were Fulani gunmen, an ethnic group that has been involved in kidnappings and criminal activities in the area.

Shekau’s faction of Boko Haram was behind the 2014 kidnapping of nearly 300 schoolgirls in Chibok. Their captivity lasted years and many of the children were never returned after a negotiated release.

In 2018, a breakaway faction of Boko Haram known as ISWAP kidnapped more than 100 girls in Dapchi. All but one was released weeks later, after negotiations.

While these are the most high-profile examples, Boko Haram has abducted well in excess of 1,000 children since 2013, according to UNICEF.

“We are now responsible and will live up to our responsibility of ensuring and making sure that we do the best we can to safeguard the lives of our people and now [the] priority is to make sure that these children are safely back into their families and back into school,” Masari said.

Amnesty condemned the attack on Wednesday and said it was a “serious violation of international humanitarian law” which “undermines the right to education for thousands of children in northern Nigeria.”

Ghost boat carrying 1,400 pounds of cocaine washes up on remote Pacific island

This December 15, 2020 photo shows a box filled with 2.2-pound (1-kg) bricks of cocaine found on a boat that washed up in the Marshall Islands.

(CNN) — A small, unassuming boat washed up on a remote island in the Pacific last week carrying no passengers — but loaded with around 1,430 pounds (649 kg) of cocaine.

The 18-foot (5.4-meter) fiberglass vessel was discovered on a beach at Ailuk Atoll in the Marshall Islands, a chain of coral atolls and volcanic islands between the Philippines and Hawaii.

The cocaine came sealed and wrapped in blocks, according to the Marshall Islands police, who then collected and destroyed most of the packages by burning them in an incinerator. Photos of the blocks show stained, yellowing plastic, stamped with a red logo that bears the letters “KW.”

One resident on Ailuk, which is home to around 400 people, discovered the boat last week, according to CNN affiliate Radio New Zealand. The vessel was too heavy for residents to lift onto the beach — so they investigated the inside, where a large compartment under the deck revealed the bricks of cocaine.

<img alt=”Marshall Islands police transport the confiscated packages of cocaine to an incinerator on December 15, 2020.” class=”media__image” src=”//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/201217112646-02-marshall-islands-cocaine-large-169.jpeg”>

Marshall Islands police transport the confiscated packages of cocaine to an incinerator on December 15, 2020.

The residents notified the authorities, and police brought the drugs back to the capital of Majuro, on another island. This week, police brought the cocaine to the incinerator; only 4.4 pounds (2 kg) were saved for the US Drug Enforcement Agency to conduct laboratory analysis, authorities said.

In total, the haul is worth an estimated $80 million, according to RNZ — and is the largest amount of cocaine to ever wash onto the Marshall Islands.

Authorities said they believed the boat had drifted over from South or Central America, and could have been at sea for one or two years.

<img alt=”Marshall Islands Police Captain Eric Jorban (left) empties packages of cocaine into an incinerator in the capital Majuro, on December 15.” class=”media__image” src=”//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/201217112647-03-marshall-islands-cocaine-large-169.jpeg”>

Marshall Islands Police Captain Eric Jorban (left) empties packages of cocaine into an incinerator in the capital Majuro, on December 15.

This may be one of the biggest drug hauls, but it’s certainly not the first; islands in the Pacific are on a major international drug trafficking route, and numerous drug packages have previously been seized or discovered in the Marshall Islands.

A resident found nearly 40 pounds (18 kg) of cocaine in 2016, and was arrested for not immediately handing it to police; a fisherman reeled in 105 pounds (48 kg) of suspected cocaine in 2018; just this year, police suspect a supply of cocaine may have washed up on Maloelap Atoll and contributed to an explosion in drug use and drug-related health complications.

Many of the packages that wash up are professionally wrapped; sometimes residents take the drugs instead of reporting them, fueling widespread drug availability and use. The problem has escalated so much this year that the Marshall Islands parliament established a drug task force in May as part of a larger crackdown effort.