Have you ever received a package out of the blue that you definitely didn‘t purchase? I know I have. Once I got a cheap phone case delivered to my house with no explanation attached.
At first, I thought it was a nice surprise gift. But it turned out to be something more sinister – an Amazon brushing scam.
These types of scams aim to boost product ratings by shipping items to unsuspecting people. The sender then leaves glowing online reviews posing as the recipient.
Seems harmless on the surface. But brushing scams can compromise your privacy and security in dangerous ways.
In this post, I‘ll break down exactly how brushing scams work on Amazon. I‘ll also explain why you should be concerned and how to protect yourself from these shady schemes.
Brushing Scams Seek to Manipulate Amazon‘s Review System
So how do these scams work? Here‘s a quick play-by-play:
Scammers obtain names and addresses of potential targets online. This is surprisingly easy to find with all the data broker sites out there.
They purchase bulk inventory of a specific product, like beauty creams or phone cases.
Packages get shipped directly to the target‘s address, often from sellers in China.
The scammer then logs into Amazon and leaves a glowing 5-star review for the product. They make it appear as if the target wrote it themselves.
Now the product seems more legitimate to potential buyers, since it has rave reviews. More sales start pouring in.
The brushing scammer sits back and watches their product shoot up in Amazon‘s search rankings thanks to all the fake reviews.
According to an investigation by Which?, top-ranked items on Amazon had 300% more five-star reviews than one-star reviews on average. This suggests rampant manipulation through strategies like brushing campaigns.
Brushing scams exploit Amazon‘s loose reviewer verification process. The site doesn‘t confirm if a reviewer actually purchased the product themselves.
This allows scammers to easily inflate ratings by posing as real customers. Just a couple of stellar fake reviews can boost sales and improve search placement.
For shady sellers, the payoff is worth the postage costs for those unwanted packages to your door.
Scammers Can Obtain Your Personal Info from Many Sources
So how do brushing scammers get your name and address to ship you stuff in the first place?
There are plenty of sources they could find your info through:
- Marketing and mailing lists
- Public records
- Social media networks
- Compromised customer data
- Data broker sites
Data brokers aggregate information and sell it to interested parties. For instance, sites like Spokeo, WhitePages, and PeopleFinder all offer personal details like full names, phone numbers, addresses, and even satellite photos of your home.
Many of these sites let you opt-out of listings. But it‘s onerous to remove yourself from every data broker individually.
Your data could also get leaked through a company data breach. Sadly, these have become far too common.
American consumers suffered over 650 million identity fraud losses in 2021, driven largely by data breaches.
There were 1,862 publicly reported data compromises in 2021, exposing nearly 22 billion records.
The 2022 Identity Fraud Study from Javelin Strategy found that one in every 43 consumers were notified of a breach exposing their personal information.
And if your username and password get exposed in a breach, scammers could break into your Amazon account. From there, they can glean your purchase history, home address, payment methods, and more.
Why Amazon Brushing Scams Should Concern You
At first glance, brushing scams seem pretty innocuous. Hey, who doesn‘t love getting a random surprise delivery?
But these schemes have sinister ulterior motives and can seriously compromise your privacy and security. Here are some reasons you should be wary:
It Exposes Your Personal Data
First, brushing scams indicate that random strangers have access to your sensitive name and home address data.
This raises the risk of someone stealing your identity to open fraudulent accounts. That can destroy your finances and credit score for years.
- According to a 2022 Senate report, identity theft and fraud cost Americans $56 billion per year.
- Javelin Strategy found that resolving ID theft takes victims an average of 40 hours in personal time.
It Opens the Door for Phishing Scams
Some brushing packages direct recipients to redeem a "free gift" by entering their payment details on the seller‘s website. But the site is just a phishing front to capture your financial information.
- Phishing scams surged highly during the pandemic, increasing 22% in 2020 over 2019.
Be wary of any package or message urging you to enter your sensitive information. And avoid clicking direct links – go to the site manually if you need to report the scam.
It Can Spread Malware to Your Device
Sometimes brushing packages prompt you to download a mobile app. This app could contain malware that gets downloaded onto your phone or computer.
- Nine in 10 malware infections stem from application downloads versus network attacks.
Malware can covertly steal your personal data, corrupt your files, or use your device in cybercrime schemes as part of a botnet.
Fake Reviews Undermine Consumer Trust
Flooding Amazon with fake 5-star testimonials slowly erodes consumer trust in reviews. It‘s harder to know which feedback is authentic versus manipulated.
- Reviews heavily influence online purchasing decisions, with 93% of customers saying they‘re essential.
If shoppers can‘t rely on Amazon reviews anymore, they may take their business to other e-commerce platforms instead. Lower sales would hurt Amazon and its third-party sellers.
Honest Sellers Suffer from Unfair Competition
To compete with sketchy brushing schemes, some sellers feel forced to send unsolicited packages to verified purchasers. They request organic reviews in exchange.
These extra postage and inventory costs cut into reputable sellers‘ profits. Some may go out of business facing this unfair fight for five-star ratings.
- About half of Amazon‘s third-party sellers are considering shutting down their businesses on the platform due to fierce competition with underhanded tactics.
Ultimately, shoppers lose out when legitimate sellers can‘t survive against shady manipulative schemes. The market becomes oversaturated with cheap counterfeit goods.
You Can Legally Keep Packages from Amazon Brushing Scams
Here‘s the one glimmer of good news if you‘re the victim of a brushing scam: Legally, you‘re entitled to keep the unsolicited item for free!
According to the FTC, federal laws prohibit shipping unordered merchandise to someone then demanding payment.
You have zero obligation to:
- Return the package to the sender
- Pay for the item
- Even open the package
You can give away, donate, or trash the unwanted product with no penalties.
However, do take precautions before using any brushing scam electronics. For safety, you may want to wipe devices and reformat them in case of any malware.
Personally, I wouldn‘t want to use a fly-by-night phone case from an anonymous Amazon seller either. But hey, to each their own.
Just be vigilant about reporting the scam rather than letting your guard down over a freebie. Don‘t let enticing deals distract you from protecting your privacy.
How Can You Prevent Falling Victim to Amazon Brushing Scams?
Here are some smart tactics to deter brusher scammers from making you their next target:
Monitor Your Accounts Routinely
Make it a habit to check your credit card and bank account activity at least weekly, if not daily. Watch for any charges you don‘t recognize, even small ones, and dispute them promptly.
Enabling text or email purchase alerts on your accounts can also help catch fraud quickly. Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, you have strong rights to dispute fake charges on credit cards.
Lock Down Your Passwords
Enabling two-factor authentication (2FA) provides another layer of account security on top of passwords.
Remove Your Info from Data Broker Sites
Search your name on data broker sites like Spokeo, WhitePages, and PeopleFinder. Follow their opt-out processes to get your listings deleted.
It‘s also smart to make your social media profiles private to limit what‘s publicly visible.
Sign Up for Identity Theft Protection
They send alerts if your info appears on the dark web, fraudulent accounts open in your name, or data breaches expose your details. This allows you to lock down accounts ASAP.
Download Comprehensive Antivirus Software
Report All Brushing Scam Packages
If you receive any packages you didn‘t order, report them promptly to Amazon‘s customer service team. Provide the order ID, shipment date, item name, and package barcode so they can investigate.
Key Takeaways on Identifying and Preventing Amazon Brushing Scam Packages
Here are some top tips to recap about avoiding sneak brushing scams:
Brushing scams send people unsolicited items to post inflated reviews under their names.
You can legally keep any packages from brushing scams. But beware security risks if prompted to download apps or enter info.
Monitor statements routinely and use strong passwords and 2FA to deter financial fraud.
Remove personal info from data broker sites to make you a less easy target.
Consider signing up for identity theft protection services that watch for misuse of your data.
Report all unexpected packages to Amazon customer support and the FTC to shut down scammers.
Stay vigilant, and you can minimize risks from insidious brushing schemes seeking to exploit Amazon‘s review system at your expense.
Now I‘d love to hear from you – have you ever gotten any Amazon packages you didn‘t order? Let me know in the comments if you suspect they were brushing scams.