Brushing Scams: What Are They and What Do They Mean For Businesses?

Kathryn Olon

In the age of two-day deliveries where customers can order everything from clothing to groceries to their front door, it should come as no surprise that delivery scams are becoming more prevalent as well.  Known as “brushing scams,” these scams have been popping up all over the United States, as well as the United Kingdom.

The scam itself is simple: the recipient receives unordered merchandise from delivery companies such as Amazon.  The boxes either have no return address or appear to have come from a reputable retailer.  Inside are a variety of items, ranging from humidifiers, hand warmers, and flashlights to lightweight items such as ping pong balls and masks.  But despite the variety in the items themselves, they each have a few things in common: they are cheaply made and unordered by the recipient. 

Although free items may sound like a good thing to many, receiving these items is indicative of something more sinister at play.  The fact that boxes were sent to a specific address and a specific individual indicates that the recipient’s personal information is available on the internet and potentially could be used for future scams or fraudulent purchases.  Because the information is out there, there is no way of knowing how it might be used in the future.

It might seem like there is no real benefit for the companies sending the free items. So what is the motive?   In exchange for using addresses and information to send items to individuals, there is a dual purpose: to create fake reviews for their products to get more purchases.  The scam works like this: the company sending the items uses the information that they have to create positive reviews from “verified purchasers,” or individuals who have ordered the product in question.   For potential customers, it looks like the company is trustworthy and provides quality products, and increases the likelihood of further purchases. 

This might seem like a lot of effort.  But the larger the number of online reviews a product has, the better it is likely to sell.  For these companies, getting these positive reviews is worth the cost of shipping inexpensive items.  This is why the companies more often than not give cheap,  lightweight items that cost less to ship.   By running brushing scams, these companies are able to fraudulently increase their sales numbers.  This rise in sales leads to other customers spending more on the company’s products.

For individuals receiving these items, the possibility of a third party retailer possessing their personal information, and this information being widely available online is concerning.  There are a few steps to ensure that your information remains safe.  Change your passwords on banking, credit card, streaming, and other online accounts to prevent cybercriminals from accessing your financial and personal information further.  After doing so, log onto your credit card portals and bank accounts to check for suspicious purchases or withdrawals.  If you notice anything suspicious, contact your credit card provider immediately to close the account. 

Perhaps the most important step is to report the scam to the online retailer, such as Amazon, that the items came from.  Contact the retailer’s customer service department.  The online retailer will then be able to perform an investigation and take action against the scam company.

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