Beware of receiving packages you did not order; it could be a ‘brushing scam’

Don’t fall for the ‘brushing scams,’ contact authorities right away.

Have you received a package you did not order online? The package has your correct name and address but the sender is not someone you know, or worse, there is no return address? And you thought, ‘What the fudge?’

The New York State Division of Consumer Protection (DCP) has warned about a “brushing scam,” which is becoming popular all over the country. The practice targets a recipient and turns them into a “verified buyer” upon delivery of the fake merchandise. The purpose is to generate “fake positive online reviews of the merchandise in the recipient’s name,” says the DCP.

“Online shopping and frequent deliveries offer scammers the opportunity to use your personal information for unscrupulous purposes,” said Acting Secretary of State Robert J. Rodriguez. “Receiving packages you did not order at your front steps does not mean it is your lucky day, but most likely, it is coming from someone using your personal information for their financial gain. Don’t fall for the brushing scams that are using you as a bait to boost their online ratings with fake information.”

How it works

Here’s how it works, according to the DCP: A person receives a package(s) containing items which were not ordered or requested by the recipient. While the package may be addressed to the recipient, there is no return address, or the return address could be that of a retailer. The sender of the item is usually an international, third-party seller who has found the recipient’s address online.

Successful delivery of the item then turns the recipient into a verified buyer on online marketplaces. The scammer uses the verified buyer’s information to then post a false positive review of a product online and boost the 5-star ratings of the product, encouraging legitimate shoppers that the product advertised has received more positive ratings than it has. Since the merchandise actually received is another product that is cheaper to ship, the scammers perceive this as a profitable pay-off.

Might not be your lucky day. Stock image

As internet shopping has become very popular in recent years, most e-commerce sites rate sellers by multiple criteria and display these seller ratings to customers. It is also a known fact that a good rating can boost sales, and sellers know how important a good review can push ratings for their products. Oftentimes, the number of items sold is usually an important factor in that rating. To give some credibility to reviews, often these brushing scams are aimed to justify a fake review online.

To avoid being victims of brushing scams, the DCP offers the following tips:

  1. You don’t have to pay for it. Federal law may allow recipients to keep items they received but did not order. Recipients are under no obligation to pay for unsolicited merchandise and can consider it a gift. If you don’t want the item, you can donate it or simply dispose of it and do not have to return it.
  2. Report it. If the item received is organic (seeds, plants or food), report it to the USDA. Unsolicited seeds or plants should not be planted as they may be invasive plants, noxious weeds or carry diseases that could cause damage to economically important crops. Seeds may be sent to the address below for destruction. Please ensure the seed package is sealed tightly and mail the seeds, the original packaging, your contact information, and any additional details, to:

Office of the State Plant Health Director of New York

c/o Christopher Zaloga

500 New Karner Road

Albany, New York 12205

If the item is an unknown liquid or substance, contact the local authorities.

  • Notify the retailer. If the package received is from a third-party retailer like Amazon, Walmart, eBay, or WISH report it to them and ask them to remove any reviews under your name.
  • Monitor your accounts. Your personal information may have been compromised. Often scammers obtain personal information through nefarious means and with ill-intentions and use it for several scams and other illicit activities in the future. Examine your online shopping accounts and credit card bills for signs of unusual activity and check your credit report. Consumers can currently obtain free credit reports weekly through April 20, 2022. Request yours at annualcreditreport.com.
  • Change your password. If you have an account with the retailer identified on the package, change your account password with the retailer.

For more consumer protection information, call the DCP Helpline at 800-697-1220, Monday through Friday, 8:30am-4:30pm or visit the DCP website at www.dos.ny.gov/consumerprotection. The Division can also be reached via Twitter at @NYSConsumer or Facebook at www.facebook.com/nysconsumer.



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