How to guard against ‘brushing’ scams


Imagine coming home to find unexpected packages on your doorstep. Boxes full of random merchandise from Amazon or other companies. Seems like a jackpot, doesn’t it?

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But as the Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns, this scam called “brushing” has a scary downside, and you are not the real winner here.

What is a ‘brushing’ scam?

Brushing scams have seen a sudden nationwide surge. You start receiving unordered boxes of miscellaneous items such as humidifiers, hand warmers, flashlights, Bluetooth speakers or computer vacuum cleaners.

The items are often lightweight and inexpensive to ship, like ping pong balls, face masks, or even seeds from China. It happens when a third-party seller gets hold of your name, shipping address and potentially even your account information. They then send you unsolicited items and write a positive review on your behalf.

This scam is a tactic to artificially inflate the seller’s ratings and boost their online presence. While this might sound harmless or even beneficial to you, remember – there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Delivery man hands woman several packages

Brushing scams have seen a sudden nationwide surge. You start receiving unordered boxes of miscellaneous items such as humidifiers, hand warmers, flashlights, Bluetooth speakers, or computer vacuum cleaners. (Kurt Knutsson)

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Why it’s a red flag

If you’re receiving items as though you’ve purchased them, it signifies that someone has access to your personal information. Your name, address, and perhaps even your phone number are all potentially exposed. Once this information is online, it could be used for numerous illicit activities.

How online sellers use brushing scams to increase their sales and reputation

The companies executing the brushing scam increase their sales numbers by making these fake purchases. Though padded, the inflated sales numbers improve the company’s reputation and lead to more legitimate sales.

How ‘porch pirates’ exploit online shopping scams

Another angle to this scam is the “porch pirate” tactic, where thieves use others’ addresses and accounts, wait for the delivery, and steal the package before the resident gets it.

Amazon package on doorstep

Another angle to this scam is the ‘porch pirate’ tactic, where thieves use others’ addresses and accounts, wait for the delivery, and steal the package before the resident gets it. (Kurt Knutsson)

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What can you do?

1. Contact the retailer – Brushing and fake reviews violate Amazon’s policies. So, if you suspect a brushing scam and the package appears to come from Amazon, contact Amazon Customer Service. They take such reports seriously and will take appropriate action. If the package appears to come from another company, contact them directly via their official website.

2. Return the package – If the package is marked with a return address and is unopened, mark it “Return to Sender,” and USPS will return it at no charge to you.

3. Do not pay for unordered merchandise- Whatever you do – do not pay for the merchandise that you didn’t order in the first place. Avoid falling victim to these brushing scams by absolutely refusing to pay for any unordered packages. 

4. Try to identify the sender – If you can identify the sender of the unordered packages, check for false reviews in your name and request for them to be removed.

5. Monitor your accounts – If you find yourself flooded with unordered packages, refuse package delivery at your home address and temporarily redirect your actual orders to a package acceptance service. Keep a close eye on your accounts for any recent orders you didn’t make.

6. Erase your digital footprint – How did these criminals get your address in the first place? It’s probably found on various people search sites all over the web and it’s time to reclaim your privacy. While no service promises to remove all your data from the internet, having a removal service is great if you want to constantly monitor and automate the process of removing your information from hundreds of sites continuously over a longer period of time. 

See my tips and best picks for removing yourself from the internet by going to Cyberguy.com/Delete

7. Have strong passwords  If you’ve been a victim of a brushing scam, it’s best to change your passwords immediately as this means that your personal information is exposed somewhere online. 

To help with this, see my picks for best password managers by heading to Cyberguy.com/Passwords

According to the Federal Trade Commission you have a legal right to keep unordered merchandise. However, this should not distract you from the potential privacy concerns it represents.

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Kurt’s key takeaways

It’s clear that this is a phenomenon that emphasizes the adage, “Not all that glitters is gold.” While the allure of free items showing up on the doorstep might initially seem like a lucky day, it’s crucial to stay vigilant and understand the hidden risks that lurk beneath the surface.

These scams serve as a sobering reminder of the importance of online privacy. As technology continues to permeate every aspect of our lives, protecting personal information becomes even more vital. It’s always best to approach unexpected events with a good measure of caution and skepticism, particularly when it involves your personal information.

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In the face of such scams, the best course of action is a proactive one, employing resources to guard your data, updating passwords regularly, and enabling two-factor authentication for an extra layer of protection. But as always, the most potent tool in your arsenal is awareness.

So, next time an unexpected parcel lands on your doorstep, will you view it as a gift or a red flag? Are you prepared to protect your digital self in the vast realm of the internet? Let us know by writing us at Cyberguy.com/Contact

For more of my security alerts, subscribe to my free CyberGuy Report Newsletter by heading to Cyberguy.com/Newsletter

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