Mysterious seeds appearing in Canadian mailboxes could be linked to ‘brushing’ scams

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Packages of unidentified seeds that appear to have been shipped from China to U.S. postal addresses are seen at the Washington State Department of Agriculture in Olympia, Wash., July 24, 2020.

WSDA / Reuters

Packets of mysterious seeds that have made unsolicited appearances in mailboxes across North America are drawing attention to an online scam called “brushing” that has recently emerged in Canada.

The system, where sellers send unsolicited packages to customers and then write bogus glowing reviews for products, may seem trivial but could signal a more serious identity fraud problem, experts say.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency warned gardeners last week not to sow seeds they received in the mail without an order, warning that they could be harmful to the environment.

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“These unauthorized seeds could come from invasive plants or they could even carry plant pests, which can be harmful once introduced into Canada,” said the agency, which also asked people not to compost the seeds or to throw them in the trash where they could sprout. .

“They could invade agricultural and natural areas, causing serious damage to our plant resources and the environment.”

Although Canadian officials did not provide a theory, the United States Department of Agriculture said there was no reason to believe it was anything other than brushing, “where the sellers send unsolicited articles to unsuspecting consumers, then post fake reviews to boost sales.

Jessie St-Cyr, a spokesperson for the Better Business Bureau, says this type of scam has recently started popping up in Canada.

She says sellers send light or inexpensive items such as seeds or ping-pong balls to people so that they appear to be verified customers when reviews are posted online in their name.

While customers aren’t typically charged for the items, she said recipients should change their passwords for online retail sites and check bank statements to make sure scammers aren’t accessing sensitive information, such as credit card numbers.

“If they are able to get your information, your name and your address, they will be able to access more private information,” she said.

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Although the organization has not received any reports related directly to the seeds, it said some people have reported receiving items such as combs or headphones.

St-Cyr said it was difficult to get data on the extent of the problem, as many customers who receive items they didn’t order generally don’t see it as a problem.

But she says customers who receive unwanted items, including seeds, should report them to authorities and the Better Business Bureau.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Center, which collects data on fraud and identity theft, said it considers brushing to be a type of identity fraud, although it has yet to receive reports from seeds.

“We have limited reports of consumers receiving unsolicited items by courier / courier that have never been ordered,” the center wrote in an email.

“It’s a new trend and something that we’re looking at, but we don’t have a lot of reports on it.”

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Terry Cutler, an online security expert, claims that online fraudsters can get the names of people in addresses in a number of ways, including buying them or in the event of a data breach.

He said those targeted should monitor their credit because “there could be an identity theft problem.”

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency did not respond to whether it believes the seeds are associated with brushing.

“The CFIA is exploring all possibilities to determine the origin of the seeds and the nature of the seeds themselves,” the agency wrote.

However, he noted that importing certain foods, plants, animals or products into the country, whether deliberately or not, “can pose a serious risk to our Canadian resources and economy.” He urged consumers to check the CFIA website before ordering such products abroad.

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