BBB Alert: Mysterious Seeds from China Possibly a Brushing Scam and Maybe More!

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People around the country are receiving mysterious seed packets in the mail from China. While the shipping package may be mislabeled as jewelry or other merchandise, the contents are instead unlabeled seeds.

In a scam known as “Brushing,” businesses will send their merchandise to your home in order to post a fake, positive review on their products. But why go through the trouble of mailing you merchandise instead of just posting the fake review?

“Often, retailers require reviewers to have actually bought the product. You can’t review something if you haven’t bought it. So, these shady businesses have to make it look like their fake reviews come from legitimate people,” said Rupp. “Because big retailers like Amazon verify and track addresses and packages through a third party like USPS, scammers can’t send packages to bogus places.”

Instead, scammers go online, find real addresses of real people, and create fake accounts. They then mail these unsuspecting people an actual product—or something completely unrelated to what they’re selling. After the tracking system confirms delivery, these scammers can then leave a “verified” review in your name. Not only do they have one more stellar review, they have also falsely inflated their sales to look more successful than they are.

In any case, receiving one of these packages is bad news for you:

The fact that the items were sent to you as if you purchased them indicates scammers have some of your information and may have also created an account in your name. Certainly, they have your name and address, and possibly, your phone number and a password. Once the information is out there, it could be used for numerous crooked enterprises.

The fake online review angle is only one way they benefit. By using the brushing scam, they also are increasing their sales numbers. After all, they aren’t really purchasing the items, since the payment goes right back to them. Increased sales numbers, even though padded with fake purchases, look good for the company and help lead to more sales.

What should you do if you receive mysterious seeds from China?

  • Contact your state’s branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Seeds can sometimes be invasive species, contain pests or pathogens, and their importation is usually highly regulated by the government. Do not plant them to see what grows or throw them away. Please file a report with the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries (ADAI) at www.agi.alabama.gov/reportseeds and provide the requested information. At the end of the on-line form, consumers will be given directions on how to store the seeds properly until contacted by ADAI. For more information, contact ADAI’s Ag Compliance section at 334-240-7304.
  • Notify the retailer. Look up the company who sent you the seeds. If you can find a listing on a 3rd party retailer, contact that company’s customer service and report the brushing scam.
  • Check your information. The package may be a sign that your personal information has been compromised.
    • Change your password.
    • Keep a close eye on your credit report, bank accounts and credit card bills. Under the Fair & Accurate Credit Transaction Act, consumers are entitled to one free annual credit report from each of the credit bureaus. The only authorized source: AnnualCreditReport.com (1-877-322-8228).
    • By looking up your name and address using a search engine, you can in some cases see how public your information has become.
    • If you find unauthorized activity on other accounts, contact the three Credit Reporting Agencies to place either a Fraud Alert or Freeze on all credit accounts.
      • Experian: https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html
      • Transunion: https://freeze.transunion.com
      • Equifax: https://www.freeze.equifax.com

Scammers tactics are continually changing and evolving. If you’ve been the victim of one or know of someone who has, report it on the BBB.org/ScamTracker. Your report can help others to avoid falling prey to similar scam tactics.

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Source: BBB North Alabama, BBB Serving Northern Nevada and Utah, BBB.org

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