Mysterious Packages Showing Up on Doorsteps

What’s inside and why is it happening?

NBC Universal, Inc.

Seventeen Amazon packages have been delivered to Catherine Mayfield’s home in Temple Hills, Maryland, since October. She didn’t order any of them. Some of the packages included cheap items, such as scissors, a foot cushion and an eyebrow trimmer. Others contained pricier items, like a steam iron.

So what’s going on? One likely possibility: Mayfield is a victim of what’s called a “brushing" scam — a tactic used by some sellers on sites like Amazon, Alibaba and Wish. 

According to Alex Hamerstone, a cybercrime expert from TrustedSec, sellers do this to boost their ratings. They make a fake account using a real name and address they can easily find online. The seller buys the product from themselves and sends it to the address.

“In order for you to have a validated purchase so that your rating carries more weight, they actually have to ship something,” said Hamerstone. The seller then writes a fake review and gives themselves five stars.

So why would someone go to so much trouble for a five-star review? It means more money for them. “We’re bombarded with choices,” said Hamerstone. “If you pick any standard product when you search on one of these large sites you might get 2,000 of them, and so the seller really wants to rise to the top.” So the more packages the seller sends, the more glowing reviews they can make up, and the more popular they appear in searches.


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Unfortunately for those receiving these packages, there’s really nothing they can do about it except to just wait for it to stop. It’s just too much for sites like Amazon to track these sellers down. “The truth is this is happening so often that they don’t have the resources to track down everyone who’s doing this … it doesn’t rise to the level,” said Hamerstone.

Hamerstone says receiving these packages doesn’t mean you’ve been a victim of identity theft since these scammers are using information that is public.

Mayfield contacted Amazon about the packages and was told she could either keep them, donate them or throw them out. She’s going to donate them.

For more information about brushing scams from the Federal Trade Commission click here.

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