Cracking the Chinese Seeds Mystery

Repinted from Scambusters(.org):

Those Chinese seeds. You’d have to have totally ignored the news in recent weeks if you haven’t seen reports about unordered mystery packages of seeds, mailed from China, that have turned up in hundreds of mailboxes.

Consumer experts suggest that the mailings are part of a “brushing” operation, although some believe they could also be a sinister attempt to cover the US with noxious weeds!

We’ve written about brushing in the past (see It’s a trick in which suppliers send unsolicited products to people and then pose as the sender or recipient to write a “verified purchase” review on retail websites like Amazon.

But, seeds? If brushing is behind them, here’s how the trick likely works:

The originator, most likely in China, actually sells cheap jewelry or other products online. They operate in the “marketplace” sector of retailers like Amazon, which means they do all their own shipping.

They use a ghost account they’ve set up with the retailer and order their own products, sending them to random addresses in the US. This then entitles them to write a “verified purchase” review.

But why send out jewelry or any other consumer product, even if it is cheap, when they can just stuff the package with worthless seeds?! They can still write a review about the jewelry since Amazon, or whoever, has no idea what’s been sent.

So, if you receive one of those packages, there’s almost certainly nothing to worry about.

However, it makes sense that you shouldn’t plant them, just in case they turn out to be noxious, or even illegal.

For the same reason, you’re advised not to just pitch them in the trash. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has issued guidance, which you can find here:

And don’t worry that your Amazon or other account has been compromised. It probably hasn’t. The scammers on the other side of the Pacific don’t need your account details to target you. They simply send them as a “gift” to addresses they gather at random.

It’s the same as when you send a gift to someone; you don’t need their account details, just their address.

In fact, if you check the address label on these “brushing” packages, it may not even have your name, just your street address.

And what should you do if you actually receive some real jewelry or another consumer product that’s unsolicited?

While we’re not legal experts and can’t provide legal advice, the weight of opinion seems to be that you can keep them.

In fact, one member of the Scambusters team has been on the receiving end of brushing shipments for the past few months. He plans to store the items for a year and then put them in the trash.

Why not keep them? The most valuable item he’s received so far is a bunion protector. And he doesn’t have bunions.

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