Authored By Dave Holcomb

Have you recently received an Amazon package that you didn’t order? It may be part of a scam called “brushing.”

This scheme involves an unordered package from Amazon showing up at your doorstep with your name on it.

Legally, you get to keep any package that’s addressed to you, but this scam isn’t entirely a victimless crime.

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What Is Amazon Brushing?

Third-party online sellers engage in “brushing” scams in an attempt to raise product ratings on websites such as Amazon. The seller pays a third party to purchase their products through fake buyer accounts they’ve created. 

After the purchase, the item gets delivered to a real address. Then the seller can write a positive review of their own product from the fake Amazon buyer account.

Reviews are hugely important to any seller on Amazon. The more reviews a particular product has and the better the reviews are, the higher the product will rank in Amazon’s algorithm. That means more exposure for that product which potentially leads to more sales.

In addition, sellers who engage in brushing scams sometimes write what are called “verified purchase reviews.” Anyone with an Amazon account can write a review for any product, but verified purchase reviews rank higher in the algorithm. And Amazon gives reviews that label only if it confirms that the product was bought at full price from the reviewer’s account.

The Dangers of Amazon Brushing

CNN Business reports brushing scams became popular about five years ago. There have been many examples of brushing made public since then.

A woman in Thousand Oaks, California, received unordered Amazon packages every two weeks for more than six months. The packages contained items ranging from a briefcase to hair straightener to a coffee cup warmer.

In Massachusetts, CBS News reported a couple received 1-2 packages every week for five months. The unsolicited Amazon packages contained items including a humidifier, a flashlight, bluetooth speakers and a computer vacuum cleaner.Advertisement

By law, unsolicited merchandise is yours to keep according to the United States Postal Inspection Service. So you don’t have to return any package you receive, and if you don’t want it, you can donate it to a good cause.

But Amazon brushing is still a threat to you and other consumers.

Your Information Is Compromised

Receiving unordered packages from Amazon means your information has been compromised. A third-party seller somehow acquired your name, shipping address and possibly your Amazon account information.

Amazon provides a help page for victims of brushing scams. I also reached out to the company’s press center and received a statement from an Amazon spokesperson via email.

It said, in part, “… we take action on those who violate our policies, including withholding payments, suspending or removing selling privileges, or working with law enforcement.”

Amazon says it will investigate and “will take action on bad actors that violate” its policies.

Fake Amazon Reviews Inflate Product Ratings

Online purchasers rely on reviews to make shopping choices.

“The real losers here are the consumers who are possibly believing many of these fake positive reviews, or this artificial padding of reviews because they might see 100 positive reviews, and then there may only be 60 or 70 of them that are legitimate,” former Amazon policy enforcement investigator Chris McCabe told CNN.

What To Do If You Get Something From Amazon You Didn’t Order

If you have received an unsolicited Amazon package and have confirmed no one you know sent you a gift, here’s what you can do to protect yourself and future potential victims:

  1. Report the unordered package to Amazon customer service at (888) 280-4331.
  2. Report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission online or by phone at (877) 382-4357.
  3. Change the password on your Amazon account and any other accounts that have the same password.
  4. Keep a close eye on your credit card statements to spot suspicious activity.

Whatever you do, do not pay for an unsolicited package. If the sender calls with a bill, they are trying to scam you again!