People across North America are reporting that mysterious packets of seeds, which they did not order, have been turning up in their mailboxes and at their door, prompting officials to warn against planting the seeds, which might be invasive or dangerous plants.
Others are reporting that they have received what appears to be free merchandise from Amazon, with no indication of who ordered the items. While this might seem like a windfall, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) is warning consumers that there is a scary downside to this recent scam, where phony companies benefit from your real delivery.
The scam is called “brushing”, and the items are usually sent by foreign, third-party sellers who are using your address and Amazon information. They want to create the impression that you are a verified purchaser of their products, and use your account information to post a glowing, positive, and fake review under your name to improve their product ratings, resulting in more sales for them.
The payoff is highly profitable from their perspective, even when the cost of the goods is taken into account. While some people have reported receiving electronic and household items, the move to seeds (and in some cases other lightweight items, such as ping pong balls) might be a way to decrease their costs.
The shipments are bad news for consumers, since the fact that someone was able to have the items sent to you as if you purchased them suggests that they have some of your Amazon account information: at the very least your name and address, and possibly your phone number and/or password. The information could be used for numerous crooked schemes, and if your credit card is linked to your Amazon account it could be used to pay for the products that were delivered to you. The result is that the scammers get the money for the purchase, increased sales numbers, and seemingly all positive reviews.
If this happens to you, notify Amazon immediately. Brushing and fake reviews are against Amazon’s policies, so contact customer service if this happens to you. They will investigate and take action on the bad actor. Go directly to Amazon’s website to get the correct contact information, and be cautious while searching for support phone numbers.
The incident might be a sign that your personal information has been compromised, so change your account password. Keep a close eye on your credit report and credit card bills for unauthorized payments.
The one silver lining is that if you receive merchandise (not seeds), you are allowed to keep it. In British Columbia, the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act says you have a legal right to keep any unordered merchandise that is sent to you.
If you have spotted a scam, even if you have not lost any money, report it to www.BBB.org/ScamTracker. Your report can prevent others from being victimized.