Something strange has started to happen over the past few months. Ordinary people across the world have been receiving mysterious packages thought the post. But who and why would they do this?
These unsolicited packets, often labelled as earrings or ‘ornaments’ have been reported to arrive in people’s post in the UK, US, Canada, New Zealand and Europe, including at least 100 cases in the UK.
One confused consignee, Liza Fowler from Birmingham, received a small package of seeds, sealed in a clear gummy bag with a custom declaration stating the goods as ‘stud earrings’. Luckily she had been made aware of the odd trend, reported this and destroyed the contents. For many this experience is somewhat baffling but also a cause for concern, Lisa explains:
‘‘ especially when everyone has been scared about corona and now we will worry what is actually in those seeds.’’
As well causing much confusion and anxiety, the packages have sparked biosecurity concerns and international investigations into their origins. Invasise species have the potential to cause harm and destruction to fragile ecosystems, we have seen the consequences of this with species like Japanese Knot weet and Giant Hogweed.
In the UK, the Animal and Plant Health Agency (Apha) of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has issued advice.
“Biosecurity is of vital importance and we have robust checks in place to protect our plants and wildlife, including for online plant sales,’ Apha told the Guardian in a statement. ‘We are currently investigating packages of seeds marked as ‘ear studs’ sent to people in the UK. Anyone who has received such seeds should not plant them and instead report them to us.’
In The United States, the Department Of Agriculture has issued a statement, saying it is ‘aware that people across the country have received unsolicited packages of seed from China’. They have said they are working with Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection, and other federal agencies to try and get to the bottom of what’s going on. Authorities across the globe are advising people to report these packages.
Although, there is a bio risk from these seeds, it unlikely that the main reason for these be sent out is deliberate attempt to cause biological harm. A more likely theory has been suggested by the USDA.
They have suggested that the packages might be related to a ‘brushing scam’ — a ruse sometimes used by online sellers as a way of boosting their own business. The scam involves people sending unsolicited items to people via fake customer accounts — thus generating a transaction, which allows them to leave a positive review on their websites, potentially boosting their business.
Indeed many of the packages I looked during my investigations did resemble packages one might expect from Chinese online platforms like Wish and Joomla. There has been complaints for years about the quality and fraud behind many of the seeds available to buy in Wish. You only need to one look at sellers promoting other worldy seeds such as Blue Tomatoes and Neon coloured Watermelong to know that many of these are fake.
The Brushing scams are nothing new, on Amazon for instance many groups exist on social media, offering free goods in exchange for positive reviews, sometimes even no review is required to gain free goods in exchange for a purchase.. The way the algorithms work both on Amazon, Wish and many offer platforms means that the listings with the most reviews and the ones with the most trending sales will be boosted by the platform and will be featured to attract potentially thousands of sales. With such potential rewards this attracts unscrupulous sellers to try gaining this advantage in any way they can. Could these mysterious seeds packages be part of a Brushing scam and should we be concerned ?
The advise is to report these unsolicited packages to authorities, destroy if you can.