Everyone loves to get free stuff – it’s why birthday parties exist, and I very much doubt that newlyweds would send out nearly as many wedding invitations without the expectation of gifts in return.
Toasters, floral arrangement, coffee makers, and of course, cold hard cash are all welcome – but you usually need to do something to warrant them. At the very least, you need to be on friendly terms with the giver.
Is Getting Free Stuff Really a Problem?
Occasionally it’s possible to get free stuff from entering a no-fee competition, but the odds aren’t in your favor, and it’s entirely possible that if you do win and try to claim your prize, you’ll be sucked into the first steps of a Paypal scam – you can read more about this type of scam here.
But there’s a new type of scam going around – one in which you are neither the victim nor the perpetrator, and which gives you a non-zero chance of having random free stuff turn up on your doorstep.
Flowers, seeds, electronics – they’re all yours to keep – but they’re indicative of a deeper problem that you need to take care of as soon as possible.
Why Have I Received a Package I Didn’t Order?
The chances are that your name and address are being used as part of a “brushing” scam. This means that sellers on Amazon are shipping items to you so that they can create fake reviews using your details.
The reasons for this are simple, and I’ll explain them now.
The Problem for Amazon Sellers
Being a retailer in the third decade of the 21st century is tough.
Yes, you have access to the global marketplace, and a logistics network that can see goods from your Guangzhou base shipped to the other side of the world in days.
But the global marketplace is owned and operated by a few major players, such as Amazon and Google. It’s crowded with online sellers hawking products similar to your own. There are around 10 million seller accounts on Amazon Marketplace, and that number is growing at a rate of 370,000 per year.
As a new company without a reputation, it’s unlikely that consumers will ever see your store, as it will be relegated to the 50th results page. The stores and products occupying the top slots will have hundreds of glowing five-star reviews, which means that Amazon’s algorithm will boost them to the top.
The only way of getting your store in front of consumer eyeballs is to gain enough great reviews and ratings so that the algorithm boosts it to the front page.
Review Farms Are a Losing Proposition for Sellers
Visit the freelance gig site fiverr.com and search for Amazon reviews. You’ll see dozens of listings offering to write reviews for Amazon products. Some of these are individuals who will use their own online accounts, but more are small companies with access to thousands of Amazon accounts.
It’s possible for an Amazon seller to purchase reviews by the dozen or hundred for around $5 each. It may seem like a bargain, but it’s not.
The reviews are often subcontracted out to people for whom English is not a first language, and who will probably not even read the product description before committing their generic words to the Amazon review system.
Worse, Amazon is getting wise to the deception and may check whether the product has actually been purchased before allowing the review on their site.
And for an Amazon seller hoping to break into the U.S. market, reviews from phony buyers named Feng in Xianjin, Aso in Lagos, or Khaltmaagiin in Ulaanbaatar, are worse than useless.
To deceive Amazon and potential U.S. customers, they need seemingly genuine reviews from Bob with a verified address in Indiana, Dave in Des Moines and Phil in Bel Air.
Brushing Scams Use YOUR Name and YOUR Address
It’s easy to get the name and address for people in the United states.
Typing a full name and state into the website United States Phone Book will give you a postal address and a phone number. To sellers trying to generate reviews for their Amazon store, the actual identity doesn’t matter – only that there’s a valid name and address so that packages can be signed for when the Amazon delivery guy drops it off.
Sellers will create dozens or hundreds of phony accounts with real names and addresses. They will use these to order goods from their own store, and after a suitable time period has passed, they will write a glowing five-star review for the verified purchase.
Meanwhile, the “victim” is left with the item.
I Didn’t Order This. Can I Keep It?
The short answer is yes. If the mystery package was mailed with your name and address, the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has stated explicitly that it’s yours to keep, throw away or donate to charity.
What’s the Downside?
Having free stuff arriving at random may seem great, and in itself, “brushing” is harmless, but it’s just one symptom of a larger problem that may cause you headaches in the future.
The fact that a third party was able to easily find your name, address and enough ancillary information to create an Amazon account means that it’s trivial for anyone else to do the same.
It means that a genuine villain might be able to get credit in your name, run up huge bills and leave you on the hook for large sums.
What You Can Do About It
The first thing you should do is notify Amazon that someone has set up a fake account in your name and is using it to garner positive online reviews.
Amazon will investigate, and it’s likely that they will cancel the account. As fake reviews are against Amazon’s policies, it’s probable that they will take action against the seller – possibly even taking down the store.
Your main concern should be in making sure that your information isn’t easily available to shady people who want to do underhand things with it.
It’s next to impossible to scrub your personal details completely. Anyone looking for you specifically will still be able to consult resources such as property records, credit reports, LexisNexis, or the USPS Change Of Address database.
But you should certainly make sure that it’s not likely you will be caught up in a random sweep of the easy-to-access databases.
Both United States Phone Book and White Pages have procedures for removing your name and address from their sites. You will also want to check if your details are exposed on sites such as People finder, Reverse Phone Lookup, Facebook and Friends Reunited.
These sites may take months to update their records. In the meantime, use Google to search for your name and town. Visit any site on which this information is available and use their contact procedures to request its removal.
Also, make sure to change your account passwords. Brushing scams are also an indication that your personal or business information has been compromised. Be sure to keep an eye on your credit reports and credit card and banking activity.
Brushing scams are what Amazon sellers use to generate fake reviews for their products using your personal details.
If you receive an Amazon parcel addressed to you, you don’t need to send it back. But you should alert Amazon and make an effort to scrub your personal information from the internet.
Amazon Brushing Scams FAQs
Is it Illegal to Open an Amazon Package I Did Not Order?
No. If it has your name and address on it, the amazon Package is yours to keep. Feel free to open it, burn it, or feed it to the dog.
I Kept Getting Products From Amazon, Should I Inform the Police?
No. Sending unsolicited parcels to people is not a crime. If you are receiving large numbers of parcels you didn’t order, there may be something in your local harassment laws, but it is unlikely the police will be able to take any action.
Will Amazon Close My Real Account if I Keep Complaining?
Amazon encourages customers to report unsolicited packages, so I think it unlikely that they will take action against you for doing exactly that!
How Can I Protect Myself From Brushing Scams?
Immediately let Amazon know that someone has opened an account in your name. Amazon takes brushing seriously and will investigate the issue. Amazon will more than likely remove that item and its vendor from its system. It is also a good idea to keep an eye on your banking, credit card, shopping, and other accounts, as the brusher may also have access to other information, possibly from a data breach.
Why Worry About Brushing Scams?
At first blush, getting free stuff delivered to your door is a pretty good deal, right? So, no big deal, right? Well, keep in mind that the folks that are brushing you got your delivery info from somewhere. While they may have just purchased it from a legitimate marketing firm, they may have also bought it from bad actors that sell information gleaned in a data breach. This means they may have access to not only your address, but also your social security number, banking information, or credit card info.
- Is Getting Free Stuff Really a Problem?
- Why Have I Received a Package I Didn’t Order?
- The Problem for Amazon Sellers
- I Didn’t Order This. Can I Keep It?
- What You Can Do About It
- Amazon Brushing Scams FAQs
- Is it Illegal to Open an Amazon Package I Did Not Order?
- I Kept Getting Products From Amazon, Should I Inform the Police?
- Will Amazon Close My Real Account if I Keep Complaining?
- How Can I Protect Myself From Brushing Scams?
- Why Worry About Brushing Scams?