Chinese Online Scam Leaves Seed Packages All over the US

By Edyth Liu, July 30, 2020

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On July 25, the Whitehouse Police Department reported on its Facebook page that suspicious packages were being received across the US. 

Apparently, over the past month, officials in at least 27 states have received reports from local residents about unsolicited packages of seeds that appear to have been sent from China.

The USDA and agriculture officials across the US initially suspected that the plant seeds belonged to invasive species. A statement issued by the USDA urged “anyone who receives an unsolicited package of seeds to immediately contact their state plant regulatory official or APHIS State plant health director.” The department further warned receivers that they should “not plant seeds from unknown origins.”

As reported by The New York Times, some of these packages had labels that say they contained jewelry, according to the Kansas Department of Agriculture. Some of the packages were even labeled to say they contained earbuds or toys.

The Whitehouse Police Department stated as of July 28, it appears that these seeds are connected to an online scam called ‘brushing.’ 

Here is an excerpt from the department’s post explaining how brushing works: 

“A brushing scam is an exploit by a vendor used to bolster product ratings and increase visibility online by shipping an inexpensive product to an unwitting receiver and then submitting positive reviews on the receiver’s behalf under the guise of a verified owner.” 

“According to the Better Business Bureau, foreign, third-party sellers use your address and Amazon information to generate a fake sale and positive review to boost their product ratings,” said Phil Wilson, director of North Carolina’s plant industry division.

Wang Wenbing, the spokesperson of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, responded to the seedy occurrences in a press conference on July 28. Wang said that China Post has strictly followed international shipping regulations to forbid the shipping of any agricultural products overseas. He further stated that China Post had determined the mailing labels “to be fake ones with erroneous layouts and entries.”

China Post has asked the United States Postal Service to return fake mail to China for further investigation.

[Cover image via Washington State Department of Agriculture]

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