It’s a scam called “brushing” and it joins the never-ending list of scams. It can be part of a new international e-commerce scam. Sometimes, the scam involves overseas sellers purchasing their own goods through fake buyer accounts and having the merchandise shipped to real U.S. addresses.
The plan is for the seller to be able to pose as a verified purchaser and write a glowing review of their own product. That can push their products up higher in Amazon search results —and it won’t matter if the product is good or not.
The scam starts innocently enough. For example, a Massachusetts couple received an unordered phone charging hand warmer from Amazon. They contacted Amazon to return it but because there was no order number Amazon was unable to help. After that, and for several weeks, more unordered merchandise arrived.
Receiving a bunch of free stuff might sound like a good deal, especially if you consider, according to the Federal Trade Commission, federal laws prohibit a demand for payment for unordered products. And the law also states that you are under no obligation to contact the sender or return the merchandise.
But, it stops being fun here because there are some real dangers. First, if you’re “brushed,” it indicates that personal info like your name, address and possibly phone number has been compromised.
Second, and this can be very bad, what happens if an unknown seller sends illegal goods to your house? You, not the sender, could find yourself charged with possession of illegal drugs or some other form of contraband.
And finally, while we may think there is no cost to you … there is. Somebody has to pay for the lost merchandise and the shipping costs. That’s you; whether you’re buying from Amazon or some other online retailer their losses will be passed along.
So, what do you do? To be on the safe side, if packages start arriving by UPS, FedEx or USPS you can refuse them at your door or return them unopened to a UPS, or FedEx office or the Post Office.
If the packages are coming from a retailer you are not acquainted with that’s a real problem because online accounts and profiles may have been set-up in your name. In that case, you’ll need to contact the retailer to make sure no accounts have been opened in your name. If so, have it closed.
Not to cause undue paranoia, but there’s also the I.D. Theft aspect of this scam. If you’ve been “brushed” you already know someone has gotten some of your personal information, name, address, and possibly more — but what else do they have and what are they going to do with it? As one level of protection, the Identity Theft Resource Center suggests; if you have online accounts, change the passwords just in case the scammer got your info by hacking an account. Also, be very vigilant keep an eye on all of your accounts, and check your credit reports at annualcreditreport.com.
Dennis Horton is director of the Rockford Regional Office of the Better Business Bureau.