• Craig Gedey

What are Amazon brushing scams and why are they causing more tension between America and China?

News broke last week that the strained relations between America and China had become the focus of more attention through an apparent “brushing scam”.



Reports outlined how the US Department of Agriculture has warned Americans not to plant unsolicited packages of seeds arriving from China.


News agency Reuters reported: “States stretching from Washington to Virginia have told residents not to put the seeds in the ground, after they arrived in the mailboxes of people who did not order them. Officials said the seeds could grow invasive species that threaten crops or livestock.


“The USDA said on Tuesday it was collecting the seeds and would test them to determine if they were a concern to agriculture or the environment. The agency is working with states and the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection to investigate the packages, according to a statement.”


The seeds were later identified as 14 types of plants - a “mix of ornamental, fruit and vegetable, herb and weed species.”


Among the plant species botanists at the US Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service have identified so far include cabbage, hibiscus, lavender, mint, morning glory, mustard, rose, rosemary and sage.


But what has this got to do with Amazon and brushing scams?


Brushing scams involve Amazon Sellers setting up accounts in a stranger's name and then sending their products to that unwitting customer. This account is then used to write up a fake verified review in an attempt to improve their seller ratings.

The US Department of Agriculture used the term in the initial response to reports, although it later also emerged that some people had bought seeds from Chinese Sellers - only to receive a far wider variety to what they had ordered.


It reached the stage last week where Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin had to state publicly that China’s postal service strictly abides by restrictions on sending seeds, and that records on the packages appear to have been falsified, according to checks by the country’s postal service after they were sent for investigation.


It was the latest in a increasing saga of issues between the two countries - but from an Amazon Sellers perspective, it highlighted a practise that has been around for a number of years with varying levels of coverage.


Thompson and Holt managing partner Craig Gedey said: “Brushing scams see Amazon Sellers setting up accounts in somebody else’s name and then sending their products to them without them knowing.


“That seems a strange practise in itself, but it based around the notion of improving that product’s rating by then writing positive, but fake, reviews of it. It has been around for a number of years and every now and then becomes prominent in the media through one particular case or another.


“It occurs when a member’s name and address has been leaked somewhere, and the website https://haveibeenpwned.com/ is useful in establishing whether your data has been part of a breach.


“If you suspect you have been part of a brushing scam - by receiving parcels from Amazon that you didn’t order or pay for - there’s a few important steps to take.


“Change your Amazon password immediately and cancel the card linked to the account. You should also report the parcels to Amazon to allow them to investigate what’s going on.


“Identity theft is a serious issue, and once a scammer has accessed your personal information it can lead to serious financial issues.”


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