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empty package scam
© Liubomyr Vorona |
Security & privacy

Here’s why people are receiving empty packages in the mail (Yes, it’s a scam)

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There have been several instances where people received a notification of a delivery that couldn’t be completed. Under normal circumstances, it could be legitimate, but these messages turned out to be fake

Those delivery scams are designed to rip you off by claiming you need to hand over information to complete a delivery. But there’s a clever new technique that crooks are using you need to know about. In this one, you receive a package, but its content will leave you wondering what’s happening.

Read on for details on this crafty scam and how to avoid falling victim.

Here’s the backstory

Imagine that your doorbell rings and a package is left on the porch. You’ve done some online shopping, so it’s not unreasonable to assume it’s an order that you placed. However, the sender’s address is from a remote town in Nebraska and the only thing inside is a small piece of cardboard. Or it’s empty.

Strangely, this has happened to so many people that there are hundreds of #emptypackage posts on Twitter from perplexed users.

What’s going on here? According to the FTC, it’s part of a rampant “brushing” scam, and criminals might have stolen your Amazon, Walmart or eBay credentials. It’s similar to when mysterious seeds from China were mailed across the U.S.  

Once crooks have your information, such as your name, address or account credentials, they send a junk package to your house. Sometimes, they create an online profile using your name and address.

But why would they do this? It’s an elaborate scheme to make their online storefronts look legitimate. By sending packages to numerous addresses, it shows they have a successful business with lots of customers. This can lead to their questionable online store or profile artificially boosted by Amazon or Walmart. 

The scheme can take several twists and turns. The most frightening twist is if the scammer has your account credentials. If you get an empty package in the mail, it’s a good idea to change your password on the site it came from.

How to handle brushing scams

The first thing to know is that if you receive a package you didn’t order, it’s still yours to keep. And no, you don’t have to pay for it. Brushing scams have been happening quite often recently. So much so that the United States Postal Service (USPS) created a PSA video about it.

The USPS also gave a few tips to protect yourself from brushing scams. Here are some suggestions.

  • Don’t pay for the merchandise – Do not be tricked or talked into paying for it.
  • Keep the package – If you opened it and like it, you may keep it. By law, you may keep unsolicited merchandise and are under no obligation to pay for it.
  • Change your account passwords – Your personal information may have been compromised.
  • Check your bank statements – Closely monitor your credit reports and credit card statements. If you see anything suspicious, report it to your bank ASAP.
  • Notify authorities – If the merchandise is organic (i.e., seeds, food, plants) or an unknown liquid or substance, notify the proper authorities and follow their instructions.
  • Notify the retailer – If unsolicited merchandise arrives from Amazon, eBay, or another third-party seller, go to that company’s website and file a fraud report. Ask the company to remove any fake reviews under your name.

Keep reading

Amazon scam: Don’t fall for this fake text! It’ll cost you

Finishing your holiday shopping? Don’t fall for this fake seller scam

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