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USDA: Mysterious seeds shipped from China likely part of brushing scam

Mysterious seeds sent from China to U.S. mailboxes
Posted at 5:00 AM, Aug 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-10 08:15:47-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — One of the more bizarre headlines of the summer was the news of mysterious seeds arriving in the mail from China.

Recipients insisted they didn't order the packages that showed up on their doorsteps.

The mystery is at least partially solved.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports a majority of the seeds are for familiar plants like lavender and mint.

Federal inspectors believe the packages are part of a bigger problem that has been plaguing online shopping: brushing scams.

According to the Federal Trade Commission and Better Business Bureau, the scam starts when Chinese sellers get a consumer's name, address and sometimes even an Amazon profile. Then the sellers ship cheap items to the customer to boost their ratings on either Amazon or Alibaba.

The Scripps station in Cincinnati interviewed a victim of a brushing scam who received dozens of unexpected items ranging from Christmas lights to phone cases.

Michael Gallivan then found reviews posted under his name on the seller's profile.

"Giving themselves five-star glowing reviews, not just of the product by the company themselves," he said.

Although free stuff in the mail may seem like good news, it could mean more scams are on the way. The BBB points out the packages mean someone has your name, address and maybe even a phone number. Once personal information is out there, it can be used by other crooks.

If you become a victim of a brushing scam, the FTC and BBB recommend you:

  • Change passwords for all e-commerce sites you use, including Amazon and eBay;
  • Contact Amazon Customer Service if the package came from Amazon;
  • Be careful when participating in sweepstakes or when ordering goods advertised as "free," "trial" or "unusually low-priced."

When it comes to the seeds, don't plant them and contact your state's department of agriculture.