Got a package of seeds in the mail? you may be part of a BRUSHING SCAM!

Got a package of seeds in the mail? you may be part of a BRUSHING SCAM!

Just when you think that 2020 couldn’t get any weirder, you open up your mailbox to discover a mysterious package has been delivered to you.  You haven’t ordered anything (recently), but the package has your correct name and address on it. When you open the package you discover a small packet of seeds or cheap jewelry or some other nicknack.  If this happened to you – then you have been BRUSHED and are probably part of a Brushing Scam!

Online shopping in 2020

I remember when shopping online was the wild west. You didn’t know who to trust and who you should give your credit card number to. People didn’t trust eCommerce websites and would rather read their credit card number to an anonymous person delivering their Pizza and writing their credit card number, then type it into a website.

Fast forward to today and online shopping is our norm. Especially now during this pandemic.

But even though this is the norm, there is still a trust factor. We know to look for the secure lock and only buy from reputable websites. So we kinda trust the tech but what we don’t trust is the company that we are buying the product from; especially if it is not a “brand name” we know.

We are ok at buying from Best Buy or Walmart but are not so sure bout buying from a brand we never heard of listed on Amazon.

Therefore we turn to the reviews section. We tend to ignore the 5-star reviews with the whole too-good-to-be-true but we focus on the 4-star ones and especially the ones that say “verified purchase”. This is an indicator that the person leaving the review has a profile on the website and has really purchased the product.

In other words, they are a real person who wrote a real review. We like that.

Reviews are critical

This is the reason that after every purchase you make, it is common for the company to ask you to leave them a review. They know this is how people make buying decisions. Loads of good reviews mean more customers.

Let’s be honest, you tend to dismiss a product from Company A with only 4 reviews and an overall 3 Star rating in favor of Company B that has over 500 reviews with an overall 4 star rating.

This is called “social proof”. We see other people “liked” the product so it must be good. It’s the checkmark we need to continue with the purchase.

This is where the BRUSHING SCAM comes in.

What is the brushing scam?

When companies list their products on sites like Amazon or eBay, they rely on these reviews. The more reviews they have, the better the odds of them selling more product. It is also said that companies with great reviews get shown more often and higher up in the site’s search results (this is not confirmed.)

Therefore, how does a new company get all these glorious reviews without selling thousands of products?

They use the Brushing Scam method which has been going on for years.

The scam is all about reviews from a verified purchaser. Companies send thousands of small packages with useless cheap items to thousands of people around the country. The costs of the shipping and the products are minuscule and are written off as a Marketing expense.

How does this help the company?

The value for the company is in creating thousands of fake profiles for the people they send the packages to.  The fake-profile person logs into the website acts as a regular shopper so as not to attract any attention. They conduct searches and land up buying these cheap items from the company. After the package has shipped and delivery is confirmed, the fake profile is able to write a “verified” review. After all, as far as the system is concerned they did in fact buy the product via the site and the product was indeed delivered. Therefore the review is valid.

They do this thousand of times and the company’s ranking increases. And so does their reputation in the eyes of new potential shoppers.

What should you do if you receive a package you didn’t order?

If you received a package that you didn’t order but it has your correct name and address on it, get in touch with the company that sent it and report it to them immediately. If you do have a profile on the website, make sure you log in and change your password too.

Recently we have seen people in the US reporting that they have received mysterious packages containing seeds in them. If you received that package, DO NOT plant the seed and contact the Department of Agriculture who issued a statement:

USDA is aware that people across the country have received suspicious, unsolicited packages of seed that appear to be coming from China. USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is working closely with the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection, other federal agencies, and State departments of agriculture to investigate the situation.

USDA urges anyone who receives an unsolicited package of seeds to immediately contact their State plant regulatory official or APHIS State plant health director. Please hold onto the seeds and packaging, including the mailing label, until someone from your State department of agriculture or APHIS contacts you with further instructions. Do not plant seeds from unknown origins.

brushing scam seedsfromchina

Pic from Washington State Department of Agriculture

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Liron Segev - TheTechieGuy

Liron Segev is an award-winning tech blogger, YouTube strategist, and Podcaster. He helps brands tell their stories in an engaging way that non-techies can relate to. He also drinks way too much coffee! @Liron_Segev on Twitter