POWELL, Ohio (WCMH) – Lisa Groome of Powell, Ohio was puzzled when she found a package in her mailbox this week that she did not recognize. Groome didn’t receive seeds, but authorities say her unwanted delivery may have been sent with the same intention – to boost a vendor’s reviews as part of a so-called “brushing scam.”
“Inside I found a no-name tennis ball with a white label and there are some numbers and letters in English and some figures in a different language below,” Groome said.
She had not ordered a tennis ball, had no idea where it came from, and did not recognize the return address in Chico, California.
“It’s very scary to receive something like this out of the blue, addressed personally to me, my home address and I have no idea what it is or whether it could be dangerous.”
The Better Business Bureau issued a warning about brushing scams earlier this summer. BBB spokesperson Jessica Kapcar said the scam involves online sellers sending unsolicited merchandise to individuals and then using their names to post favorable customer reviews.
“That bumps them up higher,” Kapcar said. “If I’m going online and looking for jewelry on Amazon, that’s going to bump them up higher in the search results and it’s going to show that they have more positive reviews – when that might not necessarily even be a real review.”
Kapcar says they have received reports from people who have received humidifiers, vacuum cleaners, jewelry and other merchandise.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture says unsolicited packets of seeds are likely part of a brushing scam as well.
Hundreds of people from across the country have reported receiving packages of seeds apparently from China. Agriculture officials concerned about the potential of introducing invasive species or even viruses have urged residents not to plant the seeds, to leave them sealed in their packaging and report it to the Department of Agriculture.
USDA officials say they are currently collecting seed packages from recipients and will test their contents and determine if they contain anything that could be of concern.
So far they have identified 14 different species of seeds including morning glory, cabbage, mustard, mint, sage and rosemary.
Lisa Groome says she reported her tennis ball package to postal authorities and left the ball sealed in his wrapper.
“I just think that we’re living in a climate and a scary time right now where when there’s something you receive that’s unsolicited, it’s a scary thing,” Groome said.
Most troubling to the BBB is how the seller accessed the consumer’s personal information in the first place.
“They had to have gotten consumers information from somewhere so we really want people to be aware of what information they’re putting out into the world and make sure your passwords are updated,” Kapcar said.