In our interconnected society, where e-commerce and online shopping have become the norm, we often find ourselves excitedly receiving packages on our doorstep. However, not every package that arrives is a cause for celebration. A recent United States Postal Service (USPS) alert raised concerns about a relatively new and crafty scam called ‘brushing.’ This scam is designed to defraud both consumers and e-commerce platforms, and it’s essential to be aware of its existence and the warning signs to avoid falling victim.
USPS Alert: A Warning Worth Heeding
The USPS alert, released in response to rising cases, describes brushing as a scam where individuals or entities send unordered merchandise to consumers. The key objective behind brushing is not to provide customers with free items, as one might initially assume. Instead, it’s a clever ploy to boost a seller’s reputation on reputable e-commerce platforms artificially. The idea is to create fake reviews, make their products appear more popular, and potentially manipulate search rankings. It might seem like a bizarre act of goodwill to the unsuspecting recipient, but the scam’s intentions are far from kind.
Understanding Brushing: How Does It Work?
To comprehend brushing, one must first recognize its underlying mechanisms. The process typically begins with unscrupulous sellers or businesses, often operating on e-commerce platforms. These entities might operate under multiple aliases, making it challenging for online marketplaces to trace their activities accurately.
Here’s how the brushing scam unfolds:
- Unsolicited Packages: The scam starts when a recipient, unaware of their impending involvement, receives a package they never ordered. This package may contain anything from electronics to clothing, cosmetics, or other items.
- Fake Reviews: After the package arrives, the seller, posing as the recipient, writes glowing reviews for their products using various accounts and aliases. These fraudulent reviews aim to deceive potential buyers and boost the seller’s credibility.
- Fictitious Sales: To further solidify their online presence, the scammer might fabricate sales records for their products, claiming to have sold several items to unknowing customers.
- Manipulating Search Rankings: The ultimate goal of brushing is to manipulate search engine rankings on e-commerce platforms. As products receive more positive reviews and higher sales figures, they move up in search results, making them more visible to prospective customers.
- Financial Implications: While recipients might believe they’ve received a free gift, brushing scams can have financial repercussions. In some cases, recipients may receive invoices or demands for payment, leading to confusion and, potentially, financial loss.
Warning Signs of Brushing
To protect yourself and your personal information from this deceptive scam, it’s crucial to be vigilant and recognize the warning signs of brushing. Here are some key indicators that should raise suspicion:
- Unexpected Packages: Receiving unexpected packages that you didn’t order is the most apparent sign of brushing. Be cautious if you haven’t recently placed an order, especially from an unknown seller.
- Missing Invoices or Payment Requests: If you receive a package with no accompanying invoice or payment request, consider it a red flag. Brushing scammers may send invoices later, attempting to collect payment for items you never requested.
- Suspicious Sender Information: Look closely at the package’s sender information. If it appears unfamiliar or lacks legitimate contact details, exercise caution.
- Multiple Packages: Receiving numerous unordered packages from different sellers is a sure sign of brushing. In such cases, it’s essential to be proactive and investigate further.
- Online Account Activity: Monitor your online shopping accounts regularly for unauthorized activity. Be vigilant about fake reviews posted under your name, especially if they praise products you’ve never purchased.
- Phishing Attempts: Brushing scams can also lead to phishing attempts. If you receive follow-up emails requesting personal or financial information related to the unsolicited package, be extremely cautious and do not respond.
- Track Your Orders: Keep track of your online orders and confirmations. This will help you identify discrepancies between what you’ve ordered and what’s arriving at your doorstep.
What to Do if You Suspect Brushing
If you suspect that you’ve become a victim of brushing, it’s essential to take immediate action to protect yourself:
- Do Not Pay: You should not pay for unordered merchandise or any associated invoices. Ignoring these requests is the safest course of action.
- Contact the Seller: If you can identify the seller responsible for the unsolicited package, attempt to contact them and clarify the situation. However, exercise caution when sharing personal information.
- Monitor Your Accounts: Monitor your online shopping accounts for any suspicious activity, including fake reviews or unauthorized access.
- Report the Scam: Contact the e-commerce platform and the USPS to report the scam. Provide them with all relevant information to assist in their investigation.
- Review Your Finances: If you receive an unexpected invoice or payment request, review your financial statements carefully and report any fraudulent charges to your credit union or credit card company.
Beware of ‘Brushing’
Brushing is a clever and devious scam that preys on our excitement about receiving packages and our trust in online shopping. By familiarizing yourself with the USPS alert and the warning signs of brushing, you can protect yourself from potential financial and identity-related threats. Stay vigilant, be cautious of unsolicited packages, and report any suspicious activity promptly. Awareness and action are your best defenses against this emerging mail scam trend.
Learn more about protecting yourself from scams in our Choice One blog “5 Tips to Avoid Text Scams.”
Read more fraud prevention tips on the Choice One Community Credit Union Fraud Protection page.