Eye on Scams: Mystery seeds form of brushing scam

Eye on Scams

LAFAYETTE, La. (KLFY)- You’ve probably heard about unmarked seed packets arriving in mailboxes around Acadiana with no explanation or reason, and with a return address in China.

Now, the United States Department of Agriculture says 14 different species of the seeds have been identified so far. They include flowering plants, herbs and vegetables. They believe this is likely to be a form of a brushing scam.

“The brushing scam is something that’s been around for a little while,” Chris Babin, with the Better Business Bureau of Acadiana, said. “It’s something where businesses send something very lightweight, inexpensive items to people in order to use those customer consumer profiles back against their business to leave a bunch of raving positive five-star reviews, which in turn leads to a bunch of sales for the products and things that they do actually sell.”

Scammers mail lightweight packages, such as ping pong balls and seeds, to people who did not order the merchandise. This is to create fake customer profiles with real names on e-commerce sites.

Then, the scammers create false positive reviews for their products and/or company.

“Be suspicious if it is something agricultural based seeds, don’t plant those,” added Babin. The USDA is trying to look into what actually those seeds are so just be leary if you receive something in the mail that you didn’t order.”

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service doesn’t have evidence indicating this is something other than a “brushing scam.”

Osama El-Lissy, Deputy Administrator of USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said, “We do not have any evidence that indicating that this is something other than a so-called “brushing scam” where people receive unsolicited items from a seller who then posts full customer reviews to boost their sales.”

“As we move forward, we know that scammers are always changing their techniques and selecting new things that they can ship inexpensively in order to leave themselves fake positive reviews,” explained Babin.

Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service asks anyone who receives an unsolicited package of seeds to submit an online report and mail their seeds to the designated USDA or the Louisiana Department of Agriculture.

Here are some tips from the Better Business Bureau if one of these seed packets arrive in the mail:

  • Check your personal information. The package may be a sign that your personal information has been compromised. 
  • Do not open the seed packet and avoid opening outer packaging or mailing materials, if possible.
  • Do not plant the seeds or discard them in the trash.
  • Limit contact with the seed package.

If you have a scam you’d like me to investigate, feel free to send me an email at smasters@klfy.com.

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