Typically this space is used to express an opinion or editorial, but today we will be using this space for information.

People in some 28 states, including Kentucky, have received packages of seeds that appear to have been sent from China. The recipients did not order the seeds and so far, no one is quite sure what is in those packages. To be safe, agriculture officials, including state Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, have warned people not to plant the seeds.

So, what is all the fuss?

Here’s what we have determined from various sources. Obviously, all we know is what information has been released, but here is a pretty good synopsis:

The packets vary in appearance from place to place. Some contain just seeds, while others include trinkets like cheap jewelry. It seems the packets are also starting to show up in Canada and England.

NBC reports that some of the seeds were mailed in white packages displaying Chinese lettering and the words, “China Post.” Some people in Ohio have received the packets in yellow envelopes.

The U.S. Agriculture Department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has teamed up with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and state departments of agriculture to investigate these packages.

The USDA has released a statement saying it did not have any evidence the packages were anything other than a “brushing scam.” 

“USDA is currently collecting seed packages and will test their contents and determine if they contain anything that could be of concern to U.S. agriculture or the environment,” the press release states.

WGN in Chicago has reported it has heard from viewers this is the second shipment they have received this year.

So, what exactly is a “brushing scam”? The magazine Fast Company explains it involves online sellers sending unsolicited packages to boost their ratings.

“There are a few different variations of the scam, but one version is that sellers create fake customer accounts, buy their own products — usually very cheap or worthless versions of products — and send them to people’s homes in other countries. The online customer accounts may be fake, but the addresses are real, and the seller can then use those accounts to register real deliveries, post glowing reviews of the products, and improve their rankings on e-commerce sites such as Amazon or eBay,” states the magazine.

Once the delivery is complete, the scammers know they have a legitimate address. They then use that name and address to write a fake review of the product. For the price of a packet of seeds, the scammers have thousands of confirmed names and addresses — confirmed because they were actually delivered — to use for the fake reviews saying potential buyers can trust the shipper.

Why is this bad for you? The Better Business Bureau explains, “The fact someone was able to have the items sent to you as if you purchased them, indicates they probably have some of your personal information such as your name, address, and possibly, your phone number. Once the information is out there on the Internet, it could be used for numerous crooked enterprises.

“The fake online review angle is only one way they benefit. By using the brushing scam, they are also increasing their sales numbers. After all, they aren’t really purchasing items, since the payment goes right back to them. Increased sales numbers, even padded with fake purchases, look good for the company, and help lead to more sales.

“Then there is the ‘porch pirate’ angle. There are instances where thieves use other people’s mailing addresses and accounts., then watch for the delivery of the package so they can steal it from the door before the resident gets it.”

As per Ag Commissioner Quarles directions,’ individuals who have received suspicious packages with seeds should put them in an airtight bag and ship them to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s division of Plant Protection Quarantine at USDA-APHIS PPQ , P.O. Box 475, Hebron, KY 41048.

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