Do you have an unexpected package? This could be part of a brushing scam

Meghan Atkinson’s experiment with a scam known as brushing began last summer with a dog pool.

Although she did not order the item, it was delivered to her home by Amazon. Atkinson doesn’t even have a dog.

She went through her order history and credit card statements thinking she might have accidentally added it to her online shopping cart. But there was no trace of the product. Then the packages kept coming.

“We have a smartwatch, which looks like an Apple Watch,” she said. Day 6. “I had phone cords for Apple products, but I don’t have any Apple products.”

She added: ‘I’ve had vacuum bags but it doesn’t say what vacuum they would work with so they’re still sitting there.

According to experts and the Better Business Bureau, a consumer advocacy organization, receiving unsolicited packages may be part of so-called brush scams. Companies, often operating overseas, purchase items and have them shipped to random recipients so that the seller can then write a favorable review of the product.

Meghan Atkinson received packages of items she never ordered, including this pet nail clipper. (Submitted by Meghan Atkinson)

Shipments generally include light and inexpensive items. The goal is to boost a seller’s product rating on e-commerce stores like Amazon.

“If you’re like most consumers who use Amazon, one of the very first things you do…is look for the product that has the most positive reviews,” said Brian Kilcourse, co-founder of Retail. Systems Research, from San Francisco.

“It’s one of the ways they increase the number of positive reviews they have.”

Brushing scams have become more common in 2020, when unsolicited seeds sent from China started showing up in mailboxes across Canada.

Potential privacy risk

Those targeted in a brushing scam are not responsible for anything that happens to their doorstep. This means that they do not owe any money nor do they have to return the delivered item. In Atkinson’s case, she gave away a number of items from her mystery shopper.

But experts and consumer advocates warn that it could signal that your personal information is in the hands of bad actors.

Atkinson received various items, ranging from a dog pool to these fishing lures. Experts say items sent in brushing scams are usually lightweight and inexpensive. (Submitted by Meghan Atkinson)

“They could get your information if you, say, clicked on a link that was [in] a phishing email,” said Jessie St-Cyr, spokesperson for the Better Business Bureau in Ottawa. Details like your name, address and phone number could also circulate on the dark web, where they are sold.

“No one is immune to scams – brushing scams either – and so it is our duty as consumers to protect our information and ensure that we are not victims of identity theft. or brushing scams in these cases,” she said.

People often don’t know that unexpected deliveries are a scam. Like Atkinson, many assume they received a package that was delivered to the wrong address.

On its website, Amazon says customers who receive unsolicited packages should immediately report the delivery, noting that third-party resellers on the platform are prohibited from this practice.

The company says it is “taking action” on retailers who participate in brushing, which may include “removing sales privileges, withholding payments, and working with law enforcement.”

Atkinson, who lives in Waterdown, Ont., a part of Hamilton, reached out to Amazon for help, but says it told her that once personal information is available, there’s not much you can do.

“It’s quite widespread and it’s an insidious problem, so it’s not an easy thing for them to solve.”

Other items Atkinson unexpectedly received include vacuum bags for an unspecified vacuum cleaner and charging cables for Apple devices, which she does not own. (Submitted by Meghan Atkinson)

Stopping deliveries, a challenge

St-Cyr and Kilcourse say people can take action if they suspect they are receiving packages as part of a brushing program.

First, be sure to “change any payment-processing passwords you have on the internet,” Kilcourse said. This means that services like PayPal and Amazon, as well as your online banking accounts, should be security checked.

Consumers should also closely monitor their bank and credit statements to ensure they are not being charged for anything they did not purchase.

“Another thing is to get your credit report once a year, especially if you’ve been the victim of a brushing scam,” St-Cyr said.

Experts say unsolicited packages don’t need to be returned to sender. (Charlie Riedel/Associated Press)

But it can be difficult to stop packages.

“If there’s a way to stop it, I haven’t heard of it. Unfortunately, once your name is spread by these people, it’s pretty hard to get them to stop because you don’t know who they are. are,” she said.

While Atkinson says the mystery of her surprise Amazon packages was entertaining at first, she now hopes to see the deliveries go away, especially given concerns about access to her private information.

“It would also be nice if it stopped because it’s junk, so none of it is really worth keeping.”


Written by Jason Vermes. Interviews with Meghan Atkinson and Brian Kilcourse conducted by Laurie Allen.


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