You may have heard recent reports of people getting packages of seeds from China that they didn’t order. Hundreds of people all across the country have received padded envelopes with these mystery seeds.
Why these seeds were delivered, and by whom, became as much of a story as the seeds themselves. While not absolutely confirmed as of this writing, the Chinese seeds appear to be just another example of a scam known as address brushing.
What is Address Brushing?
Address brushing is a scam that certain third-party sellers perform to get a lot of positive reviews on a particular online platform as quickly as possible. Sites like Amazon and eBay encourage reviews–and reward sellers that have lots of them. But they have certain requirements in place to make sure that those reviews come from genuine customers.
Getting reviews from actual purchasers of a product can take a lot of time and effort. To speed things up, sellers will instead create a number of fake accounts on the retail sites using real addresses. Then, they will buy their own product and ship it (or, more often, something cheap or fake in lieu of that actual product) to those addresses. With those accounts on file as verified purchases, the seller can then create all kinds of positive and seemingly legitimate reviews. With so many verified reviews, a seller improves its ranking and their products move to the top of retailers’ search results pages.
While illegal in the U.S. and China, address brushing has been difficult to monitor and enforce up to now. So, with it proving so effective otherwise, there has been little incentive for scammers to stop.
How Do I Protect Myself?
This can be a challenge. Whenever you make an online purchase, the third-party supplier gets your address (and so can already have it on file to create other fake accounts). It doesn’t necessarily have to be a hack or breach that reveals your address information to scammers.
What you should try to do is make sure that your more sensitive information is safe. Double check on your credit card or banking information that you use for online purchases. Verify that it hasn’t been compromised in an address brushing scheme.
You may also be able to verify if your address is associated with any suspicious activity by conducting an address lookup. If you can confirm that someone you don’t know is using your address, you should alert Amazon or other online retailers to the fraud.
What Should I Do if I Get a Package I Didn’t Order?
Amazon deliveries are an ubiquitous part of life for so many of us. You may actually forget that you ordered something! In that case, it may take opening a package and having no recollection of its contents to realize you didn’t actually order it.
Whether you open it to realize the error, or you know for a fact that you didn’t order anything, the first thing you should do is remain calm. If part of an address brushing scam, an unexpected package is only designed to complete a transaction. It isn’t usually out to injure a recipient.
Check around with family and friends to verify if the package is or isn’t supposed to be a surprise gift. Once you’ve confirmed that it isn’t, you should reach out to whatever online retailer appears to have facilitated the delivery. In efforts to cut down on address brushing, most retailers should happily assist you with the unwanted package. But if that approach does not offer closure, you can always report the incident to the Better Business Bureau.
Back to Those Seeds…. Are They Dangerous?
They do not appear to be. So far, some of the seeds have been identified as basic herbs and flowers. But further testing is underway to confirm that all are okay.
In any case, if you have received any seeds from China that you did not expect, the USDA recommends contacting your state plant regulatory official or APHIS plant health director. Do not plant them (or any seeds of unknown origin).
For more information on scams like address brushing, find plenty of related scam articles on the PeopleFinders blog.
Image attribution: Photo by Stephanie Frey – www.shutterstock.com