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Shipping packages sent from within China and the seeds they contained. Source: WSDA

Unexpected packages from China reportedly received in 30 states including WA creates concern

On Friday, July 24, Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) received two separate reports of Washington residents receiving seeds from China that they did not order. The package labeling indicated that different types of jewelry (bracelet, ring) were inside, but instead the recipients found seeds. 

The Better Business Bureau, in an recent yet apparently unrelated post on their website, warned of a scam referred to as “brushing.”

This scam is called brushing, and it has been popping up all over the country. Suddenly boxes of unordered (by the recipient) merchandise from Amazon begin arriving. There is no return address except that of Amazon. 

Why would such merchandise be sent to you if you didn’t request it? The companies, usually foreign, third-party sellers that are sending the items are simply using your address and your Amazon information. Their intention is to make it appear as though you wrote a glowing online review of their merchandise, and that you are a verified buyer of that merchandise. They then post a fake, positive review to improve their products’ ratings, which means more sales for them. The payoff is highly profitable from their perspective.

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“BBB Tip: Amazon “brushing” scam indicates a serious problem for victims” – July 2, 2020

Shipping seeds while reporting a jewelry sale would be an even more cost-effective means of carrying out a brushing scam and Amazon is not the only online retail website that uses reviews and sales volumes to promote products to website visitors.

Officials with the WSDA have expressed concern about the risks the seeds present.

  • They could be invasive. Some plants are not allowed to enter the country because they are known to be invasive, and could outcompete native plants.  
  • They could harbor pests and diseases. Plants and seeds can have insect or disease pests that could devastate native plants that have no defense against them. This could lead to the loss of plants or require increased pesticide use to manage. 
  • They could harm livestock. Some plants are toxic to livestock and other animals – even humans. If they are planted, they could be harmful to livestock and other animals. 

The WSDA says anyone who receives unsolicited seed packages should do the following: 

  • Do not open the seed packets or plant the seeds. 
  • Double bag the seeds (for example, leave in the seed packet they came in and also put inside a sealed zip-lock bag) and put them in the regular trash. Don’t put them in a compost or recycling bin.  
  • If you already planted the seeds, please pull up the plants, double bag them and put them in the trash (not compost) bin. 

The WSDA also advises against burning the seeds since that is not a guaranteed way to kill the seeds. “Some seeds actually require fire and smoke to germinate, so burning an unknown seed could actually improve its ability to grow.” They also warn that the amount of heat and time required to render a seed unviable is large and would create “a substantial risk to catching other things on fire.”

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They also advise against grinding the seeds since that could release fungal or other plant diseases. 

WSDA’s Plant Protection staff and other agencies are reportedly working with online retailers to prevent this from happening in the future. 

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