What Is a Brushing Scam?

Ever wondered if you can trust online reviews on shopping websites? If you’ve done even a little bit of shopping on sites such as Amazon, you’ve almost certainly come across some reviews that seem too good to be true and questioned their legitimacy. And unfortunately, many of the reviews posted online nowadays are not legitimate — and it’s largely due to brushing scams.

What is brushing scam?

A brushing scam (often called an Amazon brushing scam) is used by online sellers to artificially inflate the number of positive reviews they have. Here’s how they work:

1. A person receives a package that they did not order. It is addressed to them, but there is most likely no return address.
2. The person opens the package and either chooses to keep the contents or throw it away. The person can’t return the package because of the lack of a return address.
3. The sender of the package posts a fake review on their online store, pretending to be the person they sent the package to.

The sender of the package does this to make it seem as though there was a verified sale of one of their products. The review they will write of their product will be glowing, and to prospective buyers, it will seem as though the product is excellent when in actual fact, nobody ever legitimately purchased it. The product will most likely be of very little value and cheap to ship, so the sender can afford to pull this tactic off many times and build up a large collection of glittering (but fake) reviews.

Why are brushing scams bad?

On the face of it, brushing scams may seem harmless. You might think “the person didn’t pay for the package, so what’s the problem?”.

One of the problems is the fact that the personal information of the package receiver is almost certainly compromised. Fraudulent online sellers most often obtain people’s names, addresses, and other personal information illegally — often from underground online websites or on the dark web. They will almost certainly use this information to commit other crimes and scams in the future.

Another issue is the fact that due to the seller’s online store having lots of positive reviews, other people will be prompted into making legitimate purchases of what are most likely poor-quality items.

How to protect yourself from brushing scams

Received an unwanted package in the mail? Here’s what to do about it:

1. If you want it, you can keep it. In the US, by law, you are entitled to keep unsolicited merchandise without needing to pay for it.
2. If you’re contacted by the seller and asked to pay for the goods, don’t. Don’t fall for any tricks or intimidation tactics they may use. If they provide you with a pre-paid return label, you can send back the package if you wish.
3. If it is clear which retailer the goods were sent from, contact them and file a fraud report and ask that any fake reviews posted under your name are removed.
4. If you’ve opened the package and you don’t want what’s inside, feel free to throw it away in the trash if it is safe to do so.
5. If the contents of the package are suspicious in any way, contact the relevant authority.
6. Change the passwords to your online accounts. In case more of your personal information has been compromised, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

We all need to do our part

Brushing scams are far more concerning than they first appear. If you are ever the target of a brushing scam, make sure to follow the tips outlined above to protect yourself and others. When everybody plays their part, brushing scams will soon become logistically and financially unviable for the scammers.