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Ohio Department of Agriculture
Security & privacy

Remember those mysterious Chinese seed deliveries? Amazon just banned them

(Updated Sept. 8, 2020 – Amazon has banned all sales of foreign plants and seeds in the U.S. Keep reading for details.)

If you thought fraud was widespread in previous years, 2020 makes everything before look like a cakewalk. Between scammy emails and deceptive phone calls clogging up your inbox and voicemail, there are more people attempting to steal your money and data now than ever before.

But these efforts aren’t just limited to the digital realm. There are a number of scammers using shipping fraud for their own nefarious ends. Tap or click here to see how they’re using fake shipping notifications to trick people.

Not all scams actually harm their victims. Some are simply designed to use people to help scammers accomplish a goal, and that’s what’s happening with a scheme where Americans are receiving mysterious packages in the mail filled with seeds they never ordered. After months of inaction, Amazon has finally responded to these schemes.

Seeding doubt and confusion

Have you gotten a mysterious package in the mail full of seeds? Or if not seeds, how about a packet of fake jewelry, kitchen utensils or small toys? If so, you’re one of the hundreds of Americans reporting the same bizarre phenomenon involving packages originating from China.

Usually, on the envelope, the package will specify that jewelry and trinkets are contained within. But once opened, recipients only find unmarked seeds most of the time. Sometimes, it’ll be a random assortment of other small, lightweight objects.

This scenario keeps popping up in states across the country, and every recipient has one thing in common: They never ordered the package to begin with.

In response to this string of unusual deliveries, agriculture officials are urging recipients not top open anything inside the package, and to avoid handling, planting or consuming the seeds. This is out of concern that the seeds may contain invasive plant life, which can threaten local ecosystems.

In addition, they’re also recommending anyone who receives the package to put it in a bag, wash their hands and contact their local department of agriculture for further instructions. Tap or click here to see how to properly clean and sanitize Amazon packages you receive.

That brings us back to why people are receiving unsolicited seeds from halfway around the world. It appears to be another run-of-the-mill scam that treats each recipient as a patsy rather than a victim.

What’s the meaning behind these seeds and how is Amazon responding?

According to the Whitehouse Police Department in Ohio, this seed epidemic appears to be nothing more than a so-called “brushing scam.” This tactic is used by sketchy online sellers to bolster their credibility on sales platforms and make their illegitimate or fledgling businesses appear much larger and more successful than they really are.

Here’s how it works: Vendors scout for addresses they can ship inexpensive packages to that they pay for themselves. Then, they create a fake account using the address they shipped to and write a glowing review of the product they “received.” In reality, victims are nothing more than destinations, and the scam doesn’t hurt anyone financially or otherwise.

What it does do, however, is allow fake reviews to proliferate on platforms that already suffer from them. Tap or click here to see a way to weed out fake reviews on Amazon.

Amazon, though, says the seed deliveries were real orders delayed due to the pandemic. In any case, the U.S. is working with China to figure out where the seeds came from and whether they pose threats here on American soil. At least some of the seeds were found to be potentially dangerous to U.S. agriculture.

Scam or not, it’s worth changing your Amazon password just to be on the safe side. To do this, tap or click this link and enter the email address or phone number associated with your account. You’ll get a text message with a one-time-password you can use to verify it’s you making the password change.

Once you enter the one-time-password, follow the instructions onscreen and save your new password.

That said, if you get one of these weird packages, keep a close eye on your credit card and bank statements out of an abundance of caution. It’s also worth monitoring your credit report for signs of fraud. If someone has access to your address, they could potentially have access to more. Tap or click here to see the benefits of freezing your credit.

Are these seeds for sale?

Months after these mysterious packages hit the news, Amazon has banned the sale of all foreign plants and seeds within the U.S. In a statement to sellers, Amazon said the move is “to protect our customers and enhance the customer experience.”

Now, if a seller breaks these rules they could suffer serious consequences — including potentially having their account removed from the site. Still, keep an eye out for strange packages that contain stuff you didn’t order. Clever sellers might find another inexpensive item to start shipping to keep the brushing scams going.

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