Brushing: Everything you need to know about the 'free parcel on your doostep' scam
PUBLISHED: 18:45 08 February 2019
At first glance, receiving a free parcel from Amazon might seem like a stroke of good fortune.
But trading standards officers in Suffolk have now warned that people receiving unexpected deliveries might be victim to a new scam called ‘brushing’.
If a package is addressed to you and sent to your home but not ordered by you, it might be a scammer’s latest attempt at a con.
When we asked the people of Suffolk if they have been affected by this, they told us they were sent items like Kindle cases, a number plate cleaner and paintbrushes.
They are often low-value, high-volume items that rely on good reviews to stand out in online marketplaces like Amazon.
Here is more detail about the scam and how to avoid it:
What is brushing?
Alice Tomkins, community engagement officer at Suffolk Trading Standards, said: “Brushing is scammers leaving fake reviews for their own products.
“One of the first things a lot of people do when they shop online is check the reviews of something to see if it’s genuine.
“The more verified reviews a product has, the more likely people are to buy the goods as they trust that it will suit their needs.
“This means that it is more profitable for these companies to give away their products at the start, as they will turn a profit thanks to their fake reviews.”
Why are the fake reviews being taken off now?
Ms Tomkins continued: “Amazon has gone through a bit of a cull and removed reviews they believe are fake or left by bots.
“So if you have a product with 100 verified reviews, it’s going to look a lot better – reviews play a role in relationship marketing.”
In a bid to redress the balance on their websites, Amazon is removing reviews they suspect are fake or made by fake accounts.
Some reviews are now labelled as “verified reviews”, which Amazon deems more trustworthy and most likely to be made by real people.
To create a verified review someone has to order the product, have it shipped to their address and leave a review a few days later.
Why is it a problem if I get free stuff then?
There are two big problems with this - one that affects individuals and one that affects all consumers.
If verified reviews can be faced by criminals as well, then it means that shoppers have no way of distinguishing what is and is not a good product.
But even worse, if you receive one of these parcels it means that your personal details may have been compromised.
What information do the scammers need to send me things?
Ms Tomkins added: “To send someone a parcel the scammer needs your name and address, but they may also have your email address if they have this information.
“Signing up for fake marketing emails is one way that you may give up that information. This may be bought and sold by the scammers so they can use your details to create fake reviews.”
Scammers will compile lists of these pieces of data so unscrupulous companies can take advantage of hundreds or thousands of people at once.
A fake email address will be attached to your name and address so a review can be made in your name, but your other details might be used for other crimes.
What should I do if I start getting unexpected parcels?
If a scammer has gained access to your name, address and email they may also have reached sensitive financial records and people are urged to cancel any debit or credit cards they believe may have been affected.
Anyone worried they are being “brushed” should report the details of the parcels they are being sent to trading standards.
You can call 03454 04 05 06 or report it using the online form on their website.
You can also contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or check their website too.
You can also contact Royal Mail and report any scam mail, letter or parcel you receive.
You can email them at email@example.com or call 0800 0113466.
How can I spot a scammer?
Scammers will frequently use the same tactics to catch their victims out:
• They will contact you out of the blue
• They often ask for your personal or financial details
• Many will put you under pressure to respond quickly
• They might ask you to keep their offer a secret
• They make promises that sound too good to be true
To make sure you stay safe on the phone, on email or even in person:
• Always verify the identity of who you are speaking to
• Look out for grammatical or spelling mistakes - official documents are proofread more thoroughly
• Never give out your bank details or send money to someone you don’t know
• Walk away if you are pressured into making a decision