People living in many different areas of the USA are reporting receiving to their homes in recent days unexpected shipments of COVID-19 protection supplies – such as packs of surgical masks and face shields – products that they never ordered.
While some folks who receive such items may feel lucky – protective gear can sometimes be difficult to find in local stores – these “gifts” appear to be part of a cyber-scam, sometimes known as “brushing,” about which you should be familiar.
Brushing scams refer to situations in which scammers seek to improve the seller ratings of online stores – stores either operated by themselves or run by others who have paid them to improve associated ratings. By placing orders for inexpensive items with the stores whose ratings they seek to improve, and by having the stores subsequently quickly ship the purchased items (or other items) via tracked shipping services to “buyers” in many geographic regions, the scammers are able to have the stores demonstrate to the various marketplaces on which they sell (Amazon, eBay, etsy, etc.) that they consistently ship quickly for on-time or early delivery.
Of course, besides being able to “prove” that they ship efficiently, the scammers are also able to leverage the “brushing” purchases in order to submit bogus glowing product reviews from “verified buyers.” In some cases, the scammers don’t even operate legitimate stores to begin with – they seek to build a storefront with a “solid reputation” through small investments in commissions paid to marketplaces on inexpensive items, so that when the scammers offer more expensive items for sale people will be more likely to place orders – which the “vendors,” of course, have no intention of ever fulfilling.
While, according to the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC), you are, technically speaking, allowed to keep unordered items shipped to you using your name and your address, there can be ethical issues in doing so, especially when one’s doing so can help criminals. Furthermore, it is important to keep in mind that, in many cases, the received COVID-19 protection supplies are not branded, and it is impossible to ascertain if they truly meet expected quality standards. Can one be sure, for example, that an N95 respirator unexpectedly received in the mail is genuine, and truly meets the NIOSH N95 standards?
It is also worth noting that if a scammer was able to order to purchase items and ship them to you, the scammer knows some of your personal information. And there is no guarantee that the scammer’s knowledge about you is limited to just what was needed in order to make the particular purchase about which you are aware – so be sure to notify the marketplace from which the items were shipped, and, be sure to stay vigilant about identity theft.