Federal Commerce Fee Warns Customers of “Brushing” Bundle Supply Scams – CBS Pittsburgh

(CNN) – Most of the people who buy things online just have to worry that their deliveries will be late or never arrive. But some people are faced with a completely different problem: weird things like hair clippers, face creams, and sunglasses that they didn’t order at all.

The Federal Trade Commission and cyber experts have warned consumers about these supplies, which may be part of a so-called “brush” scam.

Here’s how these scams work: Third-party sellers on Amazon, eBay, and other online marketplaces pay people to write fake, positive reviews of their products or to do it themselves. In order to publish the reviews, these so-called “brushers” have to trick the website into giving the impression that a legitimate transaction has taken place. So they are using a fake account to place gift orders and direct them to a random person whose name and address they can find online. Instead of actually shipping the item they want to rate, the brushes send a cheap, often lightweight, item that costs less to ship.

Sending an item (even the wrong one) creates a tracking number. When the package is delivered, the brushes can write a verified review. Usually, if you’re on the receiving end, you won’t be billed for the purchase and your real account won’t be hacked – but you don’t know who is repeatedly sending the Mystery Packets. In many cases there is no return address. You don’t have to worry that something bad has happened or will happen to you if you receive a package that could be part of a brush scam, experts say. However, we all have to worry about the scams that are affecting the reviews we rely on when purchasing products.

Fraud attempts were reportedly carried out on ecommerce websites in China around five years ago. They reappeared in the headlines last summer when all 50 states issued warnings of mysterious, unsolicited packages of seeds being mailed to people across the country.

But it’s not just seeds. Unsuspecting recipients have also found boxes of goods ranging from dog waste scoops to power cords to soap dispensers on their doorstep.

Jen Blinn of Thousand Oaks, Calif., Told CNN Business that she has received random packages since June, most recently including a briefcase, backpack, hair straightener, and coffee cup warmer.

“Every two weeks … I get another package in the mail with random items that I never ordered,” she said. Blinn notified Amazon of the problem, but a customer service representative “didn’t really understand what I was saying. She obviously didn’t know about it, ”she said. The agent looked at Blinn’s account and found that there was nothing wrong with it.

It’s not illegal to ship disordered goods to customers. But the [Federal Trade Commission] Marketers who use fake reviews have long been looking for marketing, ”said David Vladeck, former director of the FTC’s consumer protection office and law professor at Georgetown University.

According to Amazon, the policy prohibits sellers from sending unwanted goods to customers and sellers can be removed from the website to do so.

“Third-party vendors are prohibited from sending unwanted packages to customers, and we are taking action against those who violate our policies, including withholding payments, suspending or revoking sales rights, or working with law enforcement,” said an Amazon spokesman in an email. Amazon wouldn’t say how many brush scams were found on the site or how many sellers were removed as a result of these scams.

An eBay spokesperson said in an email that brushing schemes “don’t seem to be very common” on the site. It is against eBay policies to send unwanted goods to customers or fake reviews and may result in eBay restricting sellers’ accounts or banning them from the website.

Experts also say that it is difficult to quantify the frequency of such scams as it can be difficult for businesses to tell if reviews are fake and consumer scams often go unreported.

The fact that you received a package that you did not order is usually harmless to you. The harm is to people who rely on reviews to make a purchase decision, said Chris McCabe, a former policy enforcement investigator at Amazon charged with stopping fraud and fraud. He is now an advisor to sellers on the site.

“The real losers here are the consumers who may believe in a lot of these fake positive reviews, or these man-made reviews replenishment because they might see 100 positive reviews and then there might only be 60 or 70 of them that are legitimate. ” he said.

According to a 2017 report by Northwestern University’s Spiegel Research Center, a consumer is 270% more likely to buy a product with five reviews than the likelihood of buying a product with no reviews.

Some fake reviews are also run by Facebook groups, where sellers offer buyers money for writing positive product reviews, McCabe said. Amazon and Facebook should work together to crack down on these groups, he said.

An Amazon spokesperson said the company analyzes more than 10 million reviews each week to prevent fake ones from being published and that it is providing social media companies with details of its investigation “so they can prevent that these bad actors abuse their platforms “.

A Facebook spokesperson said in an email that if the company is notified of any groups that might encourage fake reviews, it will review and remove them if they violate its policies.

Unwanted sheets and shiatsu massagers

For consumers, the unexpected deliveries can be staggering. The packages, which Ashanté Nicole never ordered, arrived at her home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 2019.

iPhone and portable car chargers. An iPad case. A heated Shiatsu massage. A nail cleaning brush and a hair dryer. Leaves. A mattress cover. A floppy fish toy.

They didn’t have a return address, so Nicole wasn’t sure who sent the packages. She reached out to Amazon to prevent them from coming, but they still arrive on her doorstep.

“It was just a little worrying because I don’t know who has my information,” she said. “I don’t know what they’re going to send me. Like they could send something illegal and then I’ll be in trouble because I didn’t know who that person was or what they were sending me. “

If you receive goods that you didn’t order, it could mean that scammers created an account on your behalf or took over your account, an FTC spokesman said in an email. Scammers may even have created new accounts in other names tied to your address so they can post lots of seemingly real reviews.

“We recommend keeping an eye on your online shopping accounts. If you discover activity that is not yours, report it to the site immediately and consider changing your password for that site, ”the spokesman said.

Nicole feels like she has done everything by notifying Amazon every time unwanted packages from the retailer arrive on her doorstep.

“I literally can’t do anything other than tell Amazon about it every time it happens. And that didn’t really do much, ”she said.

Amazon declined to comment directly on Nicole and Blinn’s accounts, but said if a customer receives a package that was not requested, they should contact Amazon’s customer service team.

Nicole hopes Amazon will do more to end the brushing and ban sellers participating in the scams.

“I just think they need to do a little more work closing these deals and making sure those sellers can’t use the platform.”

The CNN wire
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