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Cruises and Stolen Tax Returns in the Windy City

We’ve seen an interesting shift in Chicago’s SMS spam over the past few months. At the start of 2014, up until mid-April, bank phishing attempts had been the dominate flavor of SMS sent unsolicited to phones in the city. However, Floridian Cruise spam has taken a big jump in numbers this spring. So far this year in Chicago:


Since January, various phishing campaigns had been launched to steal debit and credit card information from residents. In April alone, 39% of all reported SMS were Chicago-bound bank phishing messages. After that? Dead. What happened then? Taxes happened.

Days prior to April 15th, the U.S. tax deadline, the volume of SMS phishing in Chicago targeting skyrocketed – from 0% on the 9th to 85% of all Chicago SMS spam on the 10th. This continued until the 15th, peaking at 92% of all Chicago SMS spam, after which it disappeared completely.


Upon further digging we found that these attacks were aimed almost entirely at a single type of prepaid debit card from Achieve. The reason for this is that Achieve allows for citizens to receive their Federal tax refunds via prepaid Achieve debit cards. Chicago was one of few cities that saw a wave of these debit card phishing attacks focus directly on the (then) pending tax season. After the 15th, we saw the attackers close up shop almost entirely and disappear.

Chi May

Cruise spam came to fill the leftover void. In May, roughly 62% of all unsolicited SMS were free stuff scams — the majority of which were cruise offers from Florida. Recipients are offered a cheap, or free, cruise to the Bahamas. A vast majority of these messages track back to south Florida, approximately 53% of them. Several major cities along the East Coast are also involved with sending out this spam, but oddly, Chicago is the only location not directly on the coast to be found sending out these types of possibly scammy offers. Similarly, 35% of all the spam sent from Chicago numbers this year have been cruise spam.

Caribbean Cruise Line, attributed with peddling these offers, setups up offers for a ship, operated by Celebration Cruise Line, sailing for Grand Bahama. Unfortunately, many who have chosen to partake often report that they are forced to sit through hours of timeshare offers in order to qualify for the offer. Once past the gauntlet of timeshare propositions, many victims also claims that an abundance of hidden fees are levied. The unclear terms and questionable tactics have netted the company hundreds of complaints with the better business bureau. An odd pattern emerged in each city we analyzed though. Every Sunday it appears that those responsible take a hiatus.

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