- Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation
Online shopping, especially during back-to-school season, is extremely popular. As consumers repeatedly click ‘buy now,’ we can lose track of the items arriving on our doorstep. If you open a box and don’t recognize the items and don’t remember the purchase; your first thoughts may be that you inadvertently purchased unwanted items in a large order, maybe something was shipped to you by accident, or you received goods as part of a promotion—who is going to say no to free stuff? If this happens to you, though, don’t ignore it. Unsolicited boxes of merchandise at your door aren’t necessarily a sign of good luck, you may be a victim of a brushing scam.
“Brushing” is when a scammer finds a consumer’s personal information and ships goods that they did not order. The fraudster then writes reviews in the recipient’s name with the objective of falsely boosting the ratings or reputation of a company. The packages usually resemble Amazon branding or other legitimate retailers but does not include a proper return address.
This scheme is profitable for the scammer because high ratings likely increase sales, and the products sent out are cheaply produced and easy to ship. While such a scam may seem harmless, this type of scam is dangerous because it means your personal information has been compromised and has been used to misrepresent your beliefs.
The Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation compiled tips to keep in mind to protect yourself from brushing scams.
- Do not be tricked into paying for a product you didn’t order. Per the Federal Trade Commission, you have no obligation to pay for unsolicited items, and by law you are entitled to keep them.
- Consider discarding unwanted packaging and merchandise. A product you don’t know the origin of may be unsafe. The safest option is to throw the item(s) away if it is opened and you don’t want it. If the package is unopened, you can “return to sender” through the United States Postal Service for free.
- Safeguard your information. Change your passwords and monitor your credit if you received something you did not purchase. The receipt of these boxes indicate that someone has gotten a hold of your personal information.
- Contact the merchant that the product appears to come from. If the package seems like it’s from a platform like Amazon or eBay where a scammer may have published a fake review, reach out to the company, and file a report to have the phony review removed.
If the contents of an unsolicited package are suspicious or cause alarm, consider contacting your local law enforcement. The United States Postal Inspection Service recommends calling the Postal Inspectors at 877-876-2455 to report suspicious or dangerous mail. For more information on how to handle identity theft, visit the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation’s consumer resource for victims of identity theft.