Have you been receiving Amazon packages that you’re sure you didn’t order? Well before you contemplate naming your secret admirer, make sure you’re not falling victim to ‘brushing’ – a new scam sweeping Amazon’s customer base.
The age-old proverb ‘never look a gift horse in the mouth’ often rings true, but if you’re the target of a brushing scam, you might want to take a closer look at the teeth of said gift horse – it’s very likely that they’re rotten.
Unexpected Amazon packages are arriving on doorsteps up and down the country, each playing a role in a strange new scamming technique. You won’t find a return address, contact telephone number or any tracking information on the package, and no matter how sure you are that the delivery driver has made a mistake, it’s your name on the front.
Even more unusual is the variety of the items within, ranging from phone cases, to earbuds, mini speakers, and even seeds of unknown varieties. But before you get excited about Christmas coming early or somebody deciding you deserve a treat, consider that you’ve found yourself victim to a brushing scam.
What is Brushing?
Brushing scams are a relatively new kind of fraud that involves companies (often third-party sellers on Amazon) sending products to unsuspecting customers – completely out of the blue – in a bid to artificially boost sales.
It begins with the merchant setting up a fake account in a stranger’s name, then using that account to buy their own products. They then ship the products to that stranger’s address, and once the parcel arrives at its destination, the sellers are then able to write ‘verified reviews’ of their own products. This boosts their seller ratings – creating false confidence in their dubious brand – and gives them a leg up on their competition in the search rankings.
This is surprisingly profitable from the seller’s perspective, because they are essentially paying themselves for their own item. Although they do lose the money spent to create their products, they’re often often inexpensive to begin with. Plus, being lightweight means they’re cheap to ship. The little money these sellers lose by doing this is made back many times over when their shop achieves better visibility and a large influx of customers as a result.
What’s the Downside?
So, what’s so bad about receiving free stuff in the post? Surely, it’s victimless?
While at first glance, it seems the only loser in this situation is Amazon and a slightly customer, like most businesses, Amazon recoups its losses by increasing prices, affecting its entire customer base – including you.
Brushing scams allow manufacturers to leave glowing reviews for their own products, tricking unlucky customers into buying low-quality – and sometimes unsafe – goods. Brushing also boosts the SEO of low-grade businesses, pushing them up higher in the search results than legitimate sellers, creating an unfair advantage in an already competitive market.
While the above might seem like a nuisance or far removed from the individual consumer, there’s a much more major concern to worry about: if fraudsters have your full name and address, then they must have got it from somewhere. Falling victim to a brushing scam indicates that this personal information has been breached, and who’s to say your phone number, email address, passwords, or bank details haven’t also been exposed in the process?
What Can You Do About it?
Brushing not only flies in the face of Amazon’s terms of service, its violation of false advertising laws and use of personal data makes it a crime. If you fall victim to a brushing scam, it’s important to take action immediately, rather than letting the free packages pile up – it will save you and other customers a lot of grief in the long run.
Here’s what can do to help stamp it out:
- Change your passwords: Brushing indicates that your details have been compromised, so it’s a good idea to change the passwords on your Amazon account, email, PayPal, social media and other relevant accounts. Keep a close eye on your bank statements and credit card bills too, just to be safe. If you spot anything suspicious, contact your bank.
- Strengthen your security: To prevent a similar breach happening in future, enable Multi-Factor Authentication on your account, which Amazon and other large organisations tend to offer for more secure logins. Be wary of phishing scams, and other social engineering techniques that hackers use to steal login information.
- Contact the retailer: Once you’ve eliminated the possibility of a secret admirer or generous benefactor, contact Amazon and report the fraudulent activity. They will investigate the situation and take action against the scammers. You have a legal right to keep unordered merchandise, so don’t worry about anyone coming to take anything off you, or uncomfortable questions about why you waited until now to report.
As ecommerce continues to surge in popularity, keeping our data safe in online spaces should be a priority.
While Amazon is making every effort to clean house, scammers will continue to match digital innovation with their own nefarious activities. Protect yourself by keeping informed and protecting your personal data, so that you can avoid brushing scams in one clean sweep.
If you’d like to know more about how we protect organisations from a dreaded data breach, please contact a member of our dedicated team – they’re more than happy to help.