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By Greg Cunningham
owner of Tech-hachapi 

Brushing scams

Tech Talk

 

September 30, 2023

Greg Cunningham.

No, we're not talking about brushing your teeth. How could that be a scam?

A brushing scam is probably happening when you receive a random package you didn't order. By most estimates, millions of people around the globe receive packages they haven't ordered. You might find things like beard care items, duck head earrings, a nose flute, a big foot air freshener, or ping-pong balls in the boxes. Most of these things are small and light, making shipping cheap.

But why do that? And why is it called a brushing scam?

The brushing scam is relatively new and directly tied to the popularity of online shopping. Selling something online is intensely competitive. Amazon, eBay, AliExpress, and other online sellers sell the same products and need to distinguish themselves from each other. The best way to do that is through reviews. The reviews can "brush up" a product's ratings to make it sell more.

The way the scam works is this. The seller buys their merchandise, causing their sales numbers to go up. They then ship it to you and post a favorable product review online using your name. Lots of sales and 5-star reviews mean even more sales. And the reviews show up as from a verified purchaser, giving the review more credibility.

If you've ever bought a product with thousands of reviews and found it to be a piece of junk, the seller may have "brushed" it.

The only way you get scammed here is the possibility of a fake product review with your name attached. But how did they get your name, anyway? Any time there is a data breach, all that stolen data eventually ends up in the hands of scammers. It can even be the sellers buying junk mail address lists.

The unscrupulous online retailers that use the brushing scam aren't after you. They're trying to rise to the top of the algorithm on their selling site. They hope to recoup the cost of buying their products and paying to ship them to you by selling more of the products to real customers.

If you get a random big foot air freshener, or whatever, in a package you didn't order, it's probably not a big deal. Check your accounts for unusual activity and change your passwords if you find some.

But otherwise, in the US, at least, you can keep that big foot air freshener. There's no obligation to do anything with your unsolicited package. You don't need to notify anyone or even return it. If it's something you want or need, then keep it.

But, if the random thing in the package is cosmetics, pet or people's food, or seeds, throw the darn thing away. Never eat random things that appear in the mail or plant seeds. We don't need any (more) invasive species showing up in Tehachapi.

There are ways of reporting brushing scams to major online retailers to help them police unscrupulous sellers if you want to. They'll also have ways to take down fake product reviews with your name on them. Check their websites.

Seems like that

"I'm $50 away from getting free shipping, which is only $5, and what I want is $12, so I need to spend $38 more to save money."

Do you have a computer or technology question? Greg Cunningham has been providing Tehachapi with on-site PC and network services since 2007. Email Greg at greg@tech-hachapi.com.

 
 

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